On Readers Who Applaud My 'Crusade'
Don’t tell my column readers I said this, but sometimes they worry me. Since I started writing a grammar column for a couple of community newspapers in 2002, I regularly receive e-mails that say things like: “I applaud your crusade against the erosion of the English language” and “Like you, I’m a stickler for proper usage” and “Keep up the good fight to protect our language!”
Those might be lovely and welcome replies except I don’t crusade against erosion of the language, I’m not a stickler, and, I don’t fight to protect the language.
In fact, the lion’s share of my columns demonstrate why sticklers are wrong and why there’s no reason to resist the natural evolution of the language. Yet for some reason, people see a grammar column and assume it’s either a crusade against teenagers saying “Where are you at?” or a crusade against adults using “hopefully” as a sentence adverb.
Isn’t that weird?
As I tell them, the language doesn’t erode. It just evolves. Some people think that’s terrible because the evolution is often driven by “misuse.” The irony, of course, is that every one of the language tenets the sticklers hold most dear -- the usages they fight to preserve -- were born the same way: from "misuse." Every word we now use was once “wrong.” So the very language the sticklers hold dear is an abomination unto a language someone else held dear.
If it weren’t, we’d all still be saying “thou” and “thine.”
Many of my column readers are them older people who are longtime subscribers to their community newspaper. They worry that the language is eroding, losing its integrity, or going to hell in a handbasket. But the irony is that they simply lack historical perspective. When English changes, it's just doing what languages do. That's what I've been trying to tell them along. But somehow I've failed.