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Not Your Gramma’s Grammar

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Not Your Gramma’s Grammar

“Grammar Nazi!”

The default view of our own language (I’m speaking from the US as a monolingual—feel free to chime in with experience of other native or second languages) is of a rigid thing. A structure. Strict boundaries. Even a trap, sometimes. Penalties may apply.

There’s some justice to that view. Mistake “your” for “you’re” in a post online and you’ll soon hear about it. If you Capitalize random Things as you write—maybe for “emphasis” as our barely-literate President Trump has put it—you look like a fool who doesn’t know the language. Even worse, quotation marks for emphasis. NO THAT’S NOT WHAT THEY’RE FOR STOP IT.

Some things are fairly rigid. But.

Language is made out of thin air. It’s a figment of our imagination, shared. And it changes. It changes all the time. The Latin of the beginning of the Roman republic was different than the Latin of the late Roman Empire. Old English is literally a foreign language for a speaker of modern English, yet the latter evolved from the former (along with a crapload of loanwords from a bunch of other languages, to be sure). And then there’s slang. Notice how fast slang terms come and go? Not many stick around for more than five or ten years. But some do. “Cool” is the biggie, somewhere near a century old at least. A fair number of people still know what World War 2 era FUBAR means. How long has a kissass been a kissass? That’s slang if I’ve ever seen it.

Words are coined to fit new things. Automobile was coined to describe the new motive invention, but the old car which was used for some horsedrawn vehicles survived side-by-side and is used in preference. Laser passed from an acronym used in specialized sciences to an everyday word. Watergate, due to association with Nixon’s scandal, stopped meaning a specific hotel and took on the general meaning of big ass scandal. And then there’s Shakespeare who coined a new word when he felt like it. What a bold display of artistic power that was.

Language may change as we move about the country. As a boy in Wisconsin I’d go down by the store to buy some pop. As an adult in Virginia I go TO the store to buy some SODA.

And language has a sneaky way of shifting for no apparent reason as you watch. I’ve noticed an example.

Even a decade ago, you’d go to the gym to work out and when you got home you’d say “wow, what a workout.” A two part phrasal verb (verb + a different type of word) is/was two separated words BUT ONLY FOR CERTAIN WORDS, but the noun form of these linguistic weirdos would be a compound word (it can also vary by tense). The airplane will take off shortly, so buckle your seatbelts for takeoff.

For some reason I can’t see, for a few words the construction has shifted for some of these phrases, and I have no idea why. All I know is it looks weird when I see them, but it doesn’t seem to look weird to Millennials or younger folks. Do you want to workout? I need a good workout. It looks weird to me, and it probably looks weird to you if you’re over 30ish. Or maybe 40ish. My fingers are not quite on the pulse of bleeding edge English linguistics.

People love to bitch about grammar and spelling mistakes, and talk about “kids these days.”

Some of those mistakes are just normal change, and kids have always shaken things up, linguistic or otherwise. It’s what they’re for.

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