This Language Is Yours To Use As You Wish

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I’ve had people ask me what makes you think you’re a grammarian?
My simple answer: “…the same thing that makes all other self-proclaimed grammarians.” Who makes dictionaries? What makes a ‘word?’ While I’m no expert on English, I’m a lover of words in multiple languages – and certainly, someone who spends an extraordinary amount of time with words dancing in delight inside my head. They are not my enemy, even when I bend them in uncertain ways.

My only enemy in language is the obtuse and illogical insistence that our language has ever reached a finished state. English is a mutt of a language and we are its barking dogs. We all share in its ownership and therefore bear some ability to shape it.

It all obfuscates the simple truth that our language does not have a governing body. Everything you know about the certainty and spectacle of language is based on the falsehood of having an overriding authority that dictates correctness. No such thing exists. Even if it did we would most likely ignore it. Usage determines correctness no matter how much you cluck about it or violently disagree. It is always been that way and it always will. The language we use today will not be the same as that used in 100 years. Correctness will adjust to the wear-and-tear of our assault on it.

I’ve had many people ask me about my status as an authority on language. My authority is the same as anyone else, except that I had an epiphany. I listened as 4 English experts disagreed on a basic idea regarding a simple expression, one which other languages do entirely differently. At the end of the table, another lover of language leaned in and asked those arguing, “But was the meaning perfectly clear in its expression?” The experts were flummoxed. “It seems to me that you’re confusing objective with process.”

The entire framework is an illusion. That many people read my derision of the self-proclaimed authorities on language and nod their heads in agreement with me doesn’t merely demonstrate that a lot of people hate the stupidity and structure of our language. It’s also because they recognize the truth of my message. And the same way that people realized they don’t need an intercessory to engage with their creator, we also aren’t in need of an external authority for language correctness. It’s our fault that we’ve allowed our written language to be so ridiculously arcane and complex. We can have deep universal and human conversations, even technical ones, without any need for spelling or punctuation – the customary nonsense that is demanded of us when we put pen-to-paper. The snobbery of grammar nerds is appalling precisely because they don’t recognize their own ignorance even as they protest and trumpet that they alone know the correct usage.

Language, spelling, syntax. All these things are evolving and moving targets, much like the wrinkled brow of the self-avowed expert on language.

Language is a living animal. Anything so fundamental to human expression doesn’t need years of study or advanced comprehension of ridiculously complex rules riddled with imaginary exceptions. It needs sanity. Almost all of our language is used informally and verbally.

While it’s amusing to some to feel versed on the English language, the greater truth is that our set of rules for its usage bear no resemblance to the purpose of language: communication and expression. We are all equally and preposterously ignorant for allowing language to be a burden on its users. Many see “Your welcome” and see it as a sign of ignorance. I do as well, except the ignorance is in the eye of the accuser. Those who use “your” instead of the contraction “you’re” are going to win the battle. You just don’t know it.

Likewise, I empower anyone reading this to stop heeding the grammarians as he or she attempts to correct you. It’s perfectly fine to define usage as ‘purist,’ because no one follows all the rules and most of us routinely butcher most of them without consequence.

My agony is in recognition of the hypocrisy on the part of my fellow humans. We’re all wrong – and always have been.

We own the language. All of us, even if it curls your eyebrows to understand.

The Joy of Lexicography – TED

 

What Makes a Word ‘Real’ – TED

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