Friday, 30 July 2010

Joining the Prescriptivists' Ranks

As a linguist I should be upholding the tenets of descriptivism, embracing changes in language as part of its natural evolution, not judging those who diverge from the accepted "norm", being open-minded and curious about what differentiates individuals as language users. I tried to read Eats, Shoots and Leaves but I threw it away after twenty pages. Text messaging isn't destroying language, it's evolving it, pushing its boundaries, adding to its richness. Yeah, OK, any other day I'd give you that spiel. But from time to time some things piss me off enough that I'll cast aside the descriptivism that I hold so dear and momentarily join the ranks of self-proclaimed language "experts", high-horsed grammar mavens, and those who have their own newspaper columns about language yet can't tell the difference between a Chomsky and a Chimpsky.

There are two major things that I want to talk about:

Your and loose.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, please, read on. If you do, well, read on anyway.

I want to accept the new use of these words, I really do. Sure, there are no major problems if you're and lose merge into your and loose anyway. Context would differentiate them. However, I happen to like you're and lose. I pronounce them differently to your and loose. I make a point of demonstrating the difference in my speech and writing. I'm not trying to be elitist, I just happened to listen in English class. I really think I'd mourn their loss.

I'm not going to tell you what the correct usage is. A Google search for "you're vs your" gets 479 million results. "Lose vs loose" gets 16.7 million, suggesting that a huge amount of people have the same trouble. Corpus research would shed light on the merging of the terms, though until I see a study I hesitate to make any concrete judgments. But it sure feels like the distinction, at least orthographically, is on the way out.

Imagine a world with no you're and lose. The Beatles song "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" wouldn't carry quite the same meaning anymore...

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