Re: Common Errors in English

Subject: Re: Common Errors in English
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: Mark Baker <listsub -at- analecta -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 22 Feb 2004 08:08:20 -0500

Mark Baker wrote:

The drift into mutual incomprehensibility is not a matter of language but a
matter of culture. Vocabulary is lost when the distinctions it expresses
cease to be of value. If the distinctions remained important, we would
retain the means of expressing them. We may well decry the loss of
distinctions that we think are important, but we didn't lose the distinction
because we lost the vocabulary -- we lost the vocabulary because we lost the

I'm willing to grant your point on some types of vocabulary loss. I don't think it applies to the subject of this thread, though.


An again the shoe is in the other foot. A culture can always express the
values it shares, and has the greatest difficulty expressing and
understanding those it does not share. This is not for want of vocabulary
but for want of experience, for want, dare we say, of culture.

Here, I completely agree. So many of our 19th-century and older phrases have the commonplaces of an agrarian society as their referents, that their meaning is completely lost on someone who grew up in urban/suburban culture. Flaxen-haird? Who the hell knows what color that is? Pig in a poke? Gimme a break.

Language is a
reflection of our language and our values. It is subtle where our values are
subtle, and course

[Ahh, but here we have a different situation. Surely course is a late-night typo for coarse and you, Mark, would not have us lose (or, lately, loose, apparently) the distinction. This is the type of "error"--transmission noise--that it is well to avoid if we can when we go to print but that does not bear on the relationship between culture and vocabulary that you are talking about]

where our values are course. Language does not drift --
it is swept back and forth by the tide of culture.

The decline of language has been bemoaned in every generation. If the fault
lay in language, we would be reduced to grunts and screams by now. Yet our
language remains a lively and subtle instrument. In each generation we see a
decline in one set of values and the rise of another. Old distinctions are
lost and new ones made plain. The pattern of change is broadly circular but,
in every age, half the world sees progress and the other half decay.

In any case, I was merely making a meta-argument about the various positions people take on the issue of linguistic change, not trying to express my own position or claim possession of eternal truth on the matter.



RE: Common Errors in English: From: David Locke
Re: Common Errors in English: From: Dick Margulis
Re: Common Errors in English: From: Mark Baker

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