Lange: Changing Language

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(HOST)  Commentator Willem Lange has been thinking about language and change – and not necessarily in that order.

(LANGE) I’ve long assumed that when it came my time to be obsolete, I’d decide when that was.  But I see it’s happened without my permission.

Put me down for a language fundamentalist: snob, fogy, whatever.  I can’t help but deplore the drifting and dilution of the English language.  It’s not so much I can’t accept its dynamic nature as that I believe many people in responsible public positions – news writers and editors, television anchors, and their ilk – either don’t know how or don’t care enough to get it right.

In the tenth grade I fetched up in TD Donovan’s English class, where there were as few uncertainties as in fundamentalist religion.  Convince, I learned, was not the same as persuade.  Whoever confused them would suffer a life-threatening injury to his essay grade.

It’s with irritation I hear young television news anchors pronounce a word much in the news these days as DIE-o-seez.  Supposed to be DIE-uh-siss, and the plural a very ungainly DIE-uh-sisses.  I sometimes e-mail the stations to complain, which is like dropping a rock down a dry well – no splash.  Mother often tells me to stop shouting at the screen; it’s pretentious and does no good.  But hey, if sports fans can cheer and swear at a TV screen, I guess I can, too.

TD compared language to music.  "You play the notes the way they’re written, till you master the instrument.  Then improve and improvise, if you want to.  Master it before you try to manipulate it."  For example, in recent years the word farther has been disappearing, and many style books now claim that further is the default mode.  But I ask how it would sound if I changed the adverb by taking off the -ther.  Only a rube would say, "I don’t want to go fur."  We’d naturally say far.  Hence we should say, "I don’t want to go farther."  Am I right, or what?

There’s a new language, too, that’s inscrutable to geriatrics.  It’s not hard to compose text on our computers and send it by e-mail, or look up stuff in Google.  But while we’re doing those things, we’re aware there are hundreds of others our computers can do.  If we happen to punch one of those commands inadvertently, the result may be calamitous and irreversible.  So I don’t click on keys I don’t understand, lest I be bombed back into the Typewriter Age.  Unlike Alice, who followed the directions on the bottle that said, "Drink me," I refuse to try anything cybernetic if the outcome isn’t foreknown.  LOG OUT sounds especially ominous; I’ve never done it.

The next generation is bilingual, just as surely as if they were raised in France.  They casually use words I have to look up on Google to interpret.  The latest, sent to me by an alumni magazine editor, is userid – U-S-E-R-I-D.  Took me ten minutes to figure it out: User ID.  Great!  So what’s a user ID?

This is WL up in Emont, and I GGBTW.

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