Let me share with you a handy timesaver: Whenever you see someone complain about the "dumbing-down of English," stop reading. Move along. Nothing to see there.
What "the dumbing-down of the language" invariably means is that someone's pet crotchet has been violated or exposed as a fraud, and there is wailing as if Constantinople has fallen to the Turks all over again.
A lot of that clamor since Thursday, when the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook announced that they have dropped the over/more than distinction.*
The major dumbing-down of the language had pretty much been completed by 1400, as you can see in the work of that smirking rhymster Chaucer. All those lovely inflections of Anglo-Saxon gone. All those elaborate case endings defenestrated at the hands of an illiterate pesantry and their brutal Norman overlords.
I venture to guess that many of the dumbing-down complainers have not studied Latin and Greek in schools, which used to be the mark of an educated person. Should we consider that that represents a dumbing-down?
We use you as a singular. Is that because we're too stupid to differentiate it any longer from thou and thee?
We no longer go in much for those immense full-page paragraphs laden with semicolons and dashes that nineteenth-century writers indulged in. Are we less smart because we like shorter paragraphs without semicolons?
American English, particularly as represented in newspaper and magazine journalism, has been steadily growing more conversational and less formal over a century. Does that represent a populace descending into brutish imbecility?
All right, I'll stop the rhetorical questions. Language changes. Words shed old meanings and acquire new ones. Grammar and usage shift. Tastes and fashions in prose change. One generation establishes shibboleths and the next abandons them. Somehow English survives.
*Oh yes, I am going to crow about that one in a subsequent post. Stay tuned.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun