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The Flexibility of Language June 14, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Wordy Business.
Tags: , , ,

I am, by definition, a liberal person. I am relatively hard to phase, generally hard to stress (especially if things REALLY aren’t worth stressing over), difficult to really disgust. I have my passions, and my foibles, but I am up to a point happy to take life as it comes without getting worked up or upset with little insignificant things along the way.

One of the things that doesn’t really bother me is language. I’m not a grammar nazi, or a written word traditionalist. I can get annoyed if a word is used incorrectly (your and you’re, for example, has to remain different as it totally changes the meaning), but much of the time I am happy to see language grow and evolve over time. The lovely Roisin wrote this week about her issues with people who write noone rather than no one or nobody (which is just what got me thinking about all this) – but I see this as an obvious next step. Is there any point in forcing these words to remain separate when their usage and frequency of use suggests that perhaps compounding them works? For me, I would be (and am!) happy to see this happen, as it suggests the continuing refinement and development of English as life moves on and language changes.

You see, the evolution and flexibility of the written and spoken word are what seem to me one of the greatest wonders of literature. The fact that an entire nation can move from Shakespearean turn of phrase to tlking in txt spk in what is evolutionarily the blink of an eye excites and inspires me. Nothing is static, nothing is boring – the stuffy is always overcome, the impractical tramped down in preference of the best phrase, the best word.

People worry that the huge steps taken in technology over the past decade have accelerated this process. Phonetic spelling was thought of as a threat to spelling and accuracy, symbols have taken over from intonation and subtlely. However I argue that in actual fact this hasn’t happened. Instead, English has found a way to balance the needs of an internet and immediate-information fed generation with the feelings and meaning of a beautifully crafted language. In actual fact, the super-shortening of words has faded out a little, becoming replaced with a happy kind of middle ground that means I don’t feel guilty for using lol or tho, but I don’t have to decipher a complex mix of words and letters either, or bcum a mmbr of d txt spk gnr8n.

When the needs must, we can convey a complex message in 140 characters or less. We can abbreviate, respell, play around the with building blocks of our foremost means of communication with gay abandon. Yet, at the same time, writing has not become less passionate. In fact, people are still creating beautiful works of literature, breathtaking sonnets, heartbreaking stanzas. It is this flexibility in the way language is used that makes me so happy, so chuffed to see that communication has adapted so neatly to the needs of a new world.

Golly, I do love words. Don’t you?



1. Roisin - June 14, 2011

I don’t think that caring about spelling makes a person a grammar Nazi. And, unlike someone or anyone, pushing no and one together to form ‘noone’ obscures the meaning as it changes the sound of the word to ‘noon’, which is NOT a synonym for ‘nobody’ This is not effective use of language and it isn’t an exciting development in linguistic evolution if your meaning is obscured by being too lazy to put a space between two short words.

Lauren Cooke - June 14, 2011

I have to say I disagree – it would still be pronounced noone and English is odd enough that changing things like that rarely leads to confusing pronunciation, and the spelling is different to “noon” – plus the syllables are different. I wasn’t having a go though – just merely expressing a contrasting opinion on the matter!

p.s. I write noone all the time, here’s hoping you won’t judge me too much 😛

p.p.s I wasn’t calling you a grammar nazi either

Roisin - June 14, 2011

Actually, ‘noone’ DOES have a different sound to ‘noone’ one’. In English, ‘oo’ makes just that elongated vowel sound, such as in spoon, foot, goose, wood. Therefore noone and no one have very different sounds. There might be exceptions for this but being as noone is not actually a word, it isn’t one of them. You’d be communicating poorly if, in spoken conversation, you said ‘noon’ when you meant ‘no one’ and if anything, accuracy of expression is even more important in the written word. To some readers of English noone may not present an obstacle, but that doesn’t make the use of it correct. Inaccurate usage is not the same as linguistic evolution.

2. Roisin - June 14, 2011

Flipping phone. To clarify, in my first sentence I meant to write ‘no’ and ‘one’.

3. Fi - June 15, 2011

I’m with Roisin on this.
And it’s 140 characters or fewer. Sorry, that’s my big bug bear – the confusion and misuse of less and fewer.

Lauren Cooke - June 15, 2011

Oops. But the thing is, I don’t see why it matters so much!

4. Carys - June 15, 2011

I’m with Fi and Roisin too. I think there’s also a huge difference between the evolution of language (which I consider to be more about phrasing or the introduction of new words into the dictionary) and something being accepted as right when it is in fact completely wrong. My pet hate bar NONE is “could of”. It is never “could of”. It is always “could have” – and yet the former is used so often it makes me weep. Particularly from people that are *paid* to write – I find the concept of having a job that involves writing on a day to day basis and not understanding basic concepts of grammar and punctuation absolutely abhorrent.

Also, for me personally? Fuck the new world. Technology should have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the use of the language – and this comes in to play when educating little ones. You have to know what is right before you go and dick about with it.

Words are undoubtedly brilliant. The abuse and incorrect usage of them is not.

5. Becky Owen - June 15, 2011

Lauren, I totally agree with you. I really couldn’t care if someone’s English isn’t perfect, I’ve got more important stuff to worry about.

My husband grew up in Spain and his English grammar and spelling is pretty horrendous but do I tell him off for it, constantly correct him or get angry at him for it? Heck no! He’s not bothered so long as he can get through work (thank goodness for spell-check!) and I know what he means when he sends me cryptic texts.

Yes, sometimes I read things and wander how it ever got published in such a state but I certainly won’t weep over it or consider it a bugbear.

Roisin – the pronunciation rules in English are so bizarre at times that many words are an obstacle to someone new to the language. My husband will not read anything out loud to anyone, not even our 1 year old, as he isn’t sure how to say many words and hates to be laughed at and criticised. Book is pronounced buck, look is pronounced luck; what chance does he have? Also, I was always taught that it is incorrect to begin a sentance with ‘and’.

Fi – according to Oxford English dictionary, ‘bugbear’ is all one word.

Carys – I love your line about ‘educating little ones’, especially as the previous sentance contains the delightful f-word!! Also, I’m not sure if the phrase ‘dick about with it’ helps the argument for correct use of the English language? ‘the abuse and incorrect usage of words’ may not be brilliant, but we all do it so who’s throwing the first stone?

Lauren Cooke - June 15, 2011

Becky, I completely agree!

Fi - June 16, 2011

Carys – I did not know that bugbear was all one word, thank you for pointing it out.
And I feel for your husband – I have said many times that I would not want to learn English as a foreign language because of its many idiosyncrasies in spelling and pronunciation.

6. Carys - June 15, 2011

Being as I don’t have any kids, I’m pretty sure I can say whatever the “fuck” I like. Nor do I teach them.

I’m not even going to respond to the rest of the comment as, as you say, I have more important things to be worrying about than somebody I don’t know commenting on a blog post that has frustrated and irritated me beyond belief.

Lauren Cooke - June 15, 2011

Hey hey, calm down, it’s just a blog post! I don’t want people arguing on it please! Really really not worth stressing over!

7. Helen - July 11, 2011

I have just read this post and to be honest find it both amusing and bemusing!!!!!

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