RE: Words That Are Often Misused

Subject: RE: Words That Are Often Misused
From: jimmy -at- breck-mckye -dot- com
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 29 May 2012 14:33:39 +0100

The problem with prescriptivism is that it assumes that language needs 'guarding' or overseeing. This is despite the fact that humans have been unconsciously modifying and refining their languages for around about fifty thousand years. Prescriptivism, by contrast, has only existed since the late eighteenth century, when a group of hack grammarians invented arbitrary language rules (like that split infinitive nonsense) for the sake of flogging extra textbooks.

I'm always leery of people who seem to have no standards,
and who just shrug off idiot-generated, boob-propagated
errors that subtract utility from the language.

Range of expression isn't useful in its own right. It only has 'utility' if a common context demands it. That is why we create jargon when certain semantic fields become more important, and drop other words that lack practical benefit. The alternative would be unwieldy, surely?

The old meaning of "tragic" and "tragedy" (as a
professor of theater or literature might mean it) is mostly lost.

Only outside a context of literary discussion. I don't see any real utility lost.

Even a professor of theater or literature, reading your sentence
with "tragic" or "tragedy" would assume that you intended the
dumbed-down meaning, since that's what 99% of writers mean these
days.

Not if I was reading a journal article. Then, I'd assume it meant dialectic drama resolving in catharsis, as is likely to be intended. If I read it in a newspaper, though, I'd assume otherwise. And this sort of heuristic will do just fine.

And no, nobody gets edited
for grammar or spelling anymore. Staff cuts, don-cha-no.

I suspect this is less to do with changing attitudes to language, and more down to the death of print media.

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