Mighty Red Pen

April 23, 2008

The end of the world as we know it?

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 5:35 pm
Tags: , ,

Well-documented that MRP thinks that good language skills are important. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be spending my time writing about said language skills or making a living at fixing up the mistakes others make employing them. But I don’t really share the view that every misplaced comma, dangling modifier, or use of the singular their is a harbinger of the coming of the Four Proofreaders of the Apostrophocalypse.

So I was interested to read Jan Freeman’s most recent column, “What, me worry? English isn’t getting any dumber.” She writes:

Did someone just die and make me head of the English Protection Society, chief doctor on the language ward, Wonder Woman of words? For some reason, my inbox is suddenly bulging with demands and pleas for me to use my superpowers wisely.

“Don’t give up the fight against dumbing down the language,” urges one reader. “Stop trying to justify this modern wave of (mis)-usage by citing some obscure 18th-century reference,” says another. “Please don’t add to the dumbing down of our society by saying we’ll all just get used to it,” echoes a third.

Who, me? I’m not fighting, and I’m not justifying; in the cases that provoked these comments, I was looking at the evolution of so fun, the logic behind one of the only, and the possible reasons for a confusion between cue and queue. Interesting stories all, I thought, and unlikely to dummify anyone.

Read the whole column. And if you see the Antichrist, tell him the typo went thataway.



  1. Would you mind making a short .wav or .mp3 file of “Apostrophocalypse,” preferably in the tone of the m-w.com voices, because I’m having a hard time saying it?

    Comment by helen's dad — April 23, 2008 @ 8:36 pm | Reply

  2. I loved this: “DID SOMEONE JUST die and make me head of the English Protection Society, chief doctor on the language ward, Wonder Woman of words?”

    I have always said that I want to be the Great Queen Copyeditor, but “Wonder Woman of words” sounds MUCH better!

    And THIS is hysterical: ” Who says “the language” is dumber than it used to be? When was it smart?”

    I find it amusing that we complain about the same thing all the time. Through all the ages. “These kids today,” grownups have ever complained.

    People in the 1600s and 1700s and 1800s and 1900s and 2000s have complained about the decline in the language.

    And when the printed book came out, people worried about the effect that the pot-boiler novel would have on impressionable youths. All that violence! Ditto the newspaper, the magazine, the comic book, the radio. I did a paper once for college about how the complaints & worried were the same.

    And I like this point: “word lovers might be happier if we agreed to think of verbal variations as fashion experiments.”

    Comment by TootsNYC — April 24, 2008 @ 11:10 am | Reply

  3. In 1589, George Puttenham objected to “audacious” and “compatible”. In 1880, Richard Grant White disliked “donate” and “reliable”. Samuel Johnson objected to “clutter”, “slim”, and “width”. And so on…

    Comment by goofy — April 24, 2008 @ 11:25 am | Reply

  4. O tempora! O mores!

    Comment by David — April 24, 2008 @ 1:39 pm | Reply

  5. In words as fashions the same rule will hold,
    Alike fantastic if too new or old.
    Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
    Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.

    -Alexander Pope

    Comment by Monique — May 8, 2008 @ 7:59 pm | Reply

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