How Long Before Common Usage Becomes the Rule? (was: RE: New TECHWR-L Poll Question

Subject: How Long Before Common Usage Becomes the Rule? (was: RE: New TECHWR-L Poll Question
From: "Lin Sims" <linda -dot- sims -at- verizon -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 9 Oct 2001 11:32:34 -0400

This question is more tongue-in-cheek than anything else, but I'm
genuinely curious about it.

English-speaking (and writing) people have been happily using
"they" as the indefinite singular pronoun since at least the time of
Shakespeare (400+ years now!). How long does a "common
usage" have to be used before it becomes grammatically correct?

The same question could also apply to splitting infinitives and
ending sentences with prepositions, both of which were
grammatical constructions for hundreds of years until those
Latinate prescriptivists got their hands on the grammar books.
Then all of a sudden they weren't all right anymore (amazing how
fast THAT change took), and now they're once more being
accepted, if grudgingly, by the newest generation of prescriptivists.
There are probably dozens of other examples waiting to be cited.

This doesn't mean I'm not a prescriptivist myself: I wince when I
hear "irregardless" or "as per", I've been known to tell people that
"only teeth impact", and the use of business speak such as
"prioritize" or "reimagining" has been known to drive me into
gibbering fits.

Twenty or so years from now, I expect I'll be the one complaining
about usages I consider to be ungrammatical even though by then
they'll be common--and maybe even correct.

On 9 Oct 2001, at 10:42, Brierley, Sean wrote:

For example, using "he" as a pronoun for
> things or persons of unknown gender might be correct usage but might
> also trip up and offend others. Workarounds include the he/she combo
> and grammatically incorrect use of the plural, they (which I use).
> Similarly, his becomes his/hers or theirs.
Lin Sims

Knowledge is Power.
Power Corrupts.
Study Hard. Be Evil.

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RE: New TECHWR-L Poll Question: From: Brierley, Sean

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