The Use, and Misuse, of language.

Notes from around the web:
Aaron Haspel casts a cynical eye toward the blog revolution and its impact on the English language:

Languages evolve, for good and ill, though mostly for good: natural selection applies. They are spontaneous orders, like markets. “The people” cannot take English back, never having surrendered it in the first place. Educated speakers exert disproportionate influence over its evolution, and as more people can do their own publishing there will be more educated speakers. This is the kernel of the truth in Mrs. du Toit’s remarks. But her counter-revolution is wholly imaginary. “Blog” will shortly appear in the OED, though I won’t hold my breath, as she seems to be doing, for “blogosphere,” let alone “Instalanche.”
[ . . .] And don’t wait around for the revolution, it won’t be televised and it won’t be blogged either. It isn’t coming.

– Robert Birnbaum, in his continuing quest to interview every author on the planet, talks language with a pro: Barbara Wallraff. Ms. Wallraff is :

a senior editor and the back-page Word Court and Word Fugitives columnist for The Atlantic. She has worked for the magazine since 1983. In addition to her work for The Atlantic, she is a weekly syndicated columnist for King Features. She is also the author of the bestseller Word Court: Wherein Verbal Virtue is Rewarded, Crimes Against the Language are Punished, and Poetic Justice is Done, and her second book, Your Own Words, has recently been published. She is also the editor-in-chief of the newsletter Copy Editor: Language News for the Publishing Profession. She is a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel, the American Copy Editors Society, the American Dialect Society, and the Modern Language Association.

Birnbaum and Wallraff discuss copy editing, usage guides, dictionaries, the difference between being a “stickler” and “loosey-goosey” and the popularity of language columns amongst other things.

– Another book on grammar and usage, Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves has come in for some criticism of late. Dan points us to this New Yorker review by Louis Menand. Suffice it to say that Menand notes the book can’t even practice what it preaches and finds the work a bit hypocritical:

“Eats, Shoots & Leaves” presents itself as a call to arms, in a world spinning rapidly into subliteracy, by a hip yet unapologetic curmudgeon, a stickler for the rules of writing. But it’s hard to fend off the suspicion that the whole thing might be a hoax.

I will admit that I am quite insecure about my own grammar and spelling skills. I endured an atrocious education in these areas and never really recovered except by pressing on. Any skills I have in this area was picked up in the course of writing hundreds of pages of history papers. My professors mercilessly corrected my writing until I began to see less red ink. Because of this history, however, I have an instinctual sense of usage rather than any formal or structural knowledge. It is a sad fact that our educational system really fails to teach children the structure and meaning of their native tongue. This not only leaves them unprepared academically and professionally but also makes it harder to learn other languages and stifles communication in general.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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