English Language in Peril?


Regular readers know that I get stroppy over what I perceive to be degradation of the English language. I’ve ranted over the disappearance of ‘whom’; the substitutability of ‘I’ and ‘me’; and the use of ‘bacteria’, ‘data’ and ‘phenomena’ as though they are singular nouns. Mrs SG gets equally stroppy when she hears someone pronounce the letter ‘H’ as ‘haitch’.

But I’ve just read an article by David Shariatmadari in the admirable Guardian Weekly, pointing out that the language has always been a work-in-progress and many of today’s spellings and usages would have been considered quite wrong only a couple of hundred years ago. Mr Shariatmadari mentions that ‘an apron’ evolved from ‘a napron’ and ‘horse’ used to be ‘hros’. He considers people like me to be pedants.

To an extent I accept what he says. After all, I never use ‘thou’, ‘thee’ or ‘thy’ unless I’m on stage; or ‘hast’, ‘hath’ or ‘dost’ for that matter. Perhaps I am prejudiced against people who seem to misuse the language out of ignorance or laziness, or as a deliberate ploy to avoid precision, or in the act of hijacking a word (such as ‘gay’, ‘community’ or ‘like’) for their own ends. But dammit we must have some rules! If everyone thinks they can repurpose words and make up meanings at will, the result can only be miscommunication.