ShareThis Page
English language an ever-changing river |
More Lifestyles

English language an ever-changing river

| Friday, February 24, 2017 7:15 p.m

“What’s happening to the English language?”

I hear that question often — from readers, friends, relatives, colleagues, even my plumber.

Their queries, of course, reflect different concerns. Some complain about grammatical errors (“Me and him are going to the store”), some about jargon and gobbledygook (“the synergistic parameters empower our core values”), some about cliches (“lots of moving parts”) and still others about errors in usage (“this will exasperate [exacerbate] the situation”).

So should we all just accept the fact that our language is changing?

Surprisingly, yes, because it’s changing for the better.

Many people want the English language to be as predictable as a heated, indoor swimming pool — chemically, thermally and physically controlled to provide a safe, immutable source of comfort and refreshment.

In reality, the English language is a powerful river that’s continuously flowing, carving new channels, acquiring new tributaries. No matter how much you try to divert, dam or dredge the river, it will always have its way. To paraphrase the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “No English speaker steps into the same river twice.”

If enough people, for instance, find it simpler to use “their” as a gender-neutral, singular pronoun (“Everyone should bring their laptop”), this usage will drown out the clumsy “his-or-her” construction deemed standard today.

Consider the plight of “ye.” Until the 1700s, “ye” was the second-person plural personal pronoun. But then English speakers decided it was simply easier to use “you” for both the singular and plural forms. Done.

As for improving, while we all revere and cherish the eloquence of Shakespeare, Keats and Austen, we forget that much of literature before 1900 was belabored, fustian and ornate. Today’s writing is, on the whole, crisper and sharper.

Consider Kate Christensen’s recent account of a childhood camping trip: “The Tetons meant waking up to my parents drinking cowboy coffee from tin camping mugs, shadows of pine boughs on the canvas tent wall, the fresh breeze blowing through the screen mesh window.”

And here is Woody Allen’s recent take on Hollywood during the 1930s: “Mr. and Mrs. Front Porch … kept the nation’s motion picture industry solvent. Many a Beverly Hills swimming pool was dependent on popcorn sold in the Bible Belt.”

If English is envisioned as a swimming pool, it needs more popcorn like this.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.