Friday, December 22, 2006


Now that the semester is over, I can catch up on my reading and get through some books that I have wanted to read for some time. So there will be a lot of posts in the next 4 weeks or so that start with something like, "I was finally reading blank and I found it really interesting."

Anyway, I was reading Jill Lepore's article on Noah Webster in the November 6 issue of The New Yorker. Webster was an interesting guy--a real democrat on language and a hardcore Federalist on every political issue of the day.

Lepore quotes Webster:

"The man who undertakes to censure others for the use of certain words and to decide what is or is not correct in language seems to arrogate to himself a dictatorial authority, the legitimacy of which will always be denied."

Webster is profoundly right here. Is there anything worse than a spelling/grammar/language snob? I have known many people in my life, some in the academy but more outside of it, who believe language is a thing to be preserved. I have known southerners who claim they speak the King's English. Who gives a shit? I have an aunt who corrects anyone's grammar as they speak. Please stop! There are people who believe ebonics or other ethnic/racial variations of standard English are destroying the language. Whatever! Those who fight against split infinitives? Wasting their time!

And why shouldn't you or I be able to use "fuck" or any number of words in a variety of different ways? There is no good reason except for snobbery.

Language is a constantly changing process. There is no such thing as "English" per se. That language is spoken dozens of ways around the world, each as legitimate as the next. If language doesn't change, it dies. But of course it always changes because no amount of whining from self-proclaimed defenders of language has any meaning at all. People are going to say whatever they want, coming up with new words to describe new things and discarding words that no longer have salient meaning to them. We should embrace and celebrate the constantly changing language.