In the long run, grammar bullies always lose

Once upon a time there was a word that meant “a male or female child.” One day, people started using it wrong.

For some reason, they started using it to mean only a female child. Suddenly, a term that had long included males meant “definitely not male.”

We can imagine the fallout. Surely some people were misunderstood. Surely others decried this change as imprecision in the language. Still others likely saw it as part of a disturbing trend — a dumbing down of the entire language. No one listened. And that’s how we got the word “girl” as we know it today.

This is where words come from. They evolve slowly, often through misuse.

Grammar bullies don’t like this process, so they try to stop it. But they always fail. Here's a column I wrote about two famous grammar bullies, William Safire and James Kilpatrick, who tried to police the language and failed.

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