Wednesday, 19 March 2008

a society is generally as green as its language

The Vocabula Review has a regular column called "Mock Merriam" where they lament the inclusion of words in Merriam-Webster. Just so we know exactly where they're coming from, let me quote this statement by editor Robert Hartwell Fiske: "Descriptivists and laxicographers have really had their day. I really want to upset them. I want them to know that their purpose in life is really questionable."

So far they've complained about alright, ginormous, predominate, and fulsome. Each column repeats the same complaint from Fiske's review of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition: Merriam-Webster's "promotes illiteracy" by documenting how words are used. Only the people at Vocabula Review know how words should really be used.

For ginormous, they say

Better than new, ill-defined words for simple concepts like largeness would be new words for less easily understood or less often encountered concepts like bravery or justice or truth. Having more synonyms of words such as these may, over time, affect people's behavior and increase the occurrence of bravery, the spread of justice, or the value of truth.

"May" as in "We have no evidence whatsoever to support this crazily extreme linguistic relativist position."

Once The Vocabula Review has excised these words from dictionaries, they will go on to remove the numbers of everyone they don't like from the phone books.


Jon Boy said...

Stuff like that makes me both angry and tired. You simply can't reason with people like that.

Dan said...

So... less synonyms, more sniglets?

Glen Gordon said...

Hmm... societally interesting. I read their little ditty about "alright" and it's not alright. I really don't know what these crabby people really want from the dictionary and I don't think they do either. It just sounds like endless nagging revolving around language purism (and language purism is in itself a warning sign that the person in question doesn't understand how language really works).

My philosophy is that people who keep barking about what they don't like all the time without ever offering something better (whether it be a better idea, better theory, better mathematical formula, better toaster oven, better dictionary, etc.) are just negative, bitter, empty flakes whose volume should be set on mute. There. I said it. There's my kernel of wisdom. Knock yourselves out ;)

I just read Why is there Anti-Intellectualism? which might be relevant to this topic. It's good to question experts but one should also make sure to have a positive aim when one does, instead of just tearing down knowledge and replacing it with nothing better in order to feel "smart".

mahendra singh said...

Isn't this (the quoted diatribe against ginormous) precisely the same argument that George Orwell made into the linguistic foundation of "1984"?

As for myself, my fellow bon vivants and I have used the word "ginormous" for many years, it's a popular drink in the summer, especially with Rose's Lime Juice and plenty of ice,


goofy said...

Isn't this (the quoted diatribe against ginormous) precisely the same argument that George Orwell made into the linguistic foundation of "1984"?

Yes it is, and it didn't work then either.

cheers! have a ginormous for me!