Merriam-Webster - Bringing the Mondegreen to Linguistic Fanboys Everywhere

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Spotted this one on Slashdot today. Reading the comments, I came along quite a few that expressed what appears to be complete and utter dismay at the introduction of new words into the language. For example, this one:
"Even if you can guess what it means, it's always good fun to pounce on neologisms and jargon and grill the user why they are using them instead of a more traditional word."

And then there was this one:
"my old boss used to love these damn things and every time he'd say the word "webinar" a peice of me died a little inside"


It reminds me of a time I was driving around Brisbane with a friend, it was Christmas time, and I noted a sign in front of a church that stated something along the lines of "Christmass Services". I made an offhand comment about the mispelling, and my friend pointed out that the origin of the word indicates that it should, indeed, be spelled "Christmass" (as it derived from the Mass for Christ). The main point of her comment though was the fact that language is an ever-changing and constantly evolving beast. Wordsmiths - myself included - are often very quick to point out that something is not a word, or is a neologism, or just isn't right for some other reason.

We all use language in different ways every day - the language we use to speak to our friends is not the same as we use to speak to our children, or to authorities. The language that we use to write emails to our friends is different to the language that we use to write a complaint to the phone company. In my case, the language that I use to write technical documentation is different to the language I use to write fiction, and is different to the language I am using to write this blog post. The most interesting thing about that is the language that I use to do all those things has changed - as I've gotten older, as my opinions have changed, as my knowledge has increased, as my tastes have changed, and as I've come across new words.

I was working on the latest fiction project last night, writing very short snippets in first person for several different characters, and consciously trying to alter the 'voice' of each section to suit that character. Not as easy as it sounds, but I'm reasonably pleased with the results, so far.

Language, in all its forms, shifts and changes with attitude and society. While I've never considered Merriam-Webster to be authoritative, and I certainly wouldn't rely on it for any of my work, at least we ought to give them credit for trying to document the language as it is used, rather than how it 'ought' to be. And for that reason alone, it has a place in the world.

2 comments:

Aurelius said...

Since the Christmass mis-spelling was in Brisbane, it was due to the retardation of the speller. They're all illiterate up there.

cheloya said...

Just realised that my comment on fossdocs was probably of more interest to you personally than to the techwriter crowd:

Consciously switching between distinct voices is a great exercise — one of my tutors divided voice into velocity, verbosity, viewpoint (1st/3rd/omni, etc.), and vision (what is actually noticed by the speaker). Listing the characteristics of those elements before you start writing is really useful when it comes to focusing on specific characters. :)

~laubai

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