Thursday, February 08, 2007

Looking carefully at language critics

People who claim to get all furious over improper word usages -- they're not really that angry, as Geoff Nunberg contends.
Those folks who talk about yelling at their radio when they hear someone use less instead of fewer, or who, like Dick Cavett, threaten to "pop" the senator who spoke of his "incredulous" experiences -- they're not really angry at all. It's all a[n] exercise in counterfeit camp. And by the by, it demonstrates just what an irrelevant business language criticism has become.

I'll admit, some errors bug me, but I try not to let it ruin my day. In the course of my work, I will edit someone else's copy to correct spelling, punctuation, and tense, and I will suggest changes that make the words flow better. But, I don't believe that I have ever used the words loathesome, horrible, or barbarous to describe unwise word choices.

And Nunberg thinks that this harsh language used to criticize errors is perhaps, by its very nature, too over-the-top to be taken seriously.
But the very extravagance of those denunciations makes it obvious that they weren't meant to be taken literally. A malaprop or solecism can be irksome, but it's never more than that. ... If the panelists really did believe that these matters deserved the same level of public concern as other social and political issues, you can bet they would vent their disapproval a lot more moderately.
I agree. I really don't think serious lovers of the English language get that worked up over a few usage errors. English is a feisty lover, and, if you take its failings too seriously, you tend to miss out on all the fun it can offer.

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