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Language Change Index

7 years ago
last modified: 7 years ago

Yoyobon's it relevant any more? thread has morphed into a grammar and usage discussion. It reminds me of Brian Garner's Language-Change Index, which I've encountered a few times over the years. The five stages of language change he defines seem spot-on to me. For example, it's probably time for me to get over my "less vs. fewer" pet peeve (Oh those grocery store checkout signs!), as I believe it's at stage 4, nearing stage 5 on the Language Change Index.

Where do you think your pet peeves fall on this scale?

Stage 1 (“rejected”): A new form emerges as an innovation (or a dialectal form persists) among a small minority of the language community, perhaps displacing a traditional usage (e.g.: “your” misused for “you’re”).

Stage 2 (“widely shunned”): The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community but remains unacceptable in standard usage (e.g.: *”pour over books” for “pore over books”).

Stage 3 (“widespread but . . .”): The form becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage (e.g.: “clinch” misused for “clench”).

Stage 4 (“ubiquitous but . . .”): The form becomes virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots) (e.g.: “often” pronounced “OF-tuhn””).

Stage 5 (“fully accepted”): The form is universally accepted (not counting pseudo-snoot eccentrics) (e.g.: “decimate” for inflicting large-scale destruction).

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