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Word Use, Usage Panels and Other Pronouncements About Language

jargonA week or so ago Cathy Miller, who among other writing is the creator of A Baby Boomers Second Life, posted an article called Our Obsession with ‘Real Words’.

It’s a fun read, particularly for writers – of which Cathy is certainly a well respected one. She talks briefly about what she calls the ‘Battle of the Words,’ speaking about so called ‘real words’ and word use.

She also included a wonderful video of Anne Curzan, (embedded below) who is a professor at the University of Michigan, author of books on language, member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel, and co-host of That’s What They Say on Michigan Public Radio. She also has a wonderful sense of humor and doesn’t take herself or her work too seriously.

Two camps?

Both the article and the vid reminds me that the world of writing and language does seem to be divided into two camps:

  • Those who are certain there is a specific, lasts for all time, right way to use language words, and,
  • Those who enjoy watching words and language change over time.

I’m very much in the latter category. I don’t know if I’m delighted or appalled at the fact that trying to establish rules for grammar goes back to at least the 6th century BC according to Wikipedia.

I love stories like David Crystal: the story of English spelling which gives some fascinating details about how spelling varies. And 11 historical figures who were really bad at spelling feels like a breath of fresh air for this creative speller.

I understand the idea that if we obey grammar rules and spelling rules communication, and word use rules we’ll be easier because everyone will understand what the other is saying. It’s one of those ideas that sounds good in theory and doesn’t seem to hold true at all.

After you watch this video you’ll understand why I found it so delightful and true.

Anne Curzan’s TED talk

Curzan talks about her career and her experience on word and usage panels – making it all seem like fun.It will take you not quite 18 minutes to view this. If you don’t have time right now, make sure you come back to it later – I love it and suspect you will too.

Did you watch? What do you think? Does this talk help you relax about language or evoke some other emotion? Let us know in comments.

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Write well and often,





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