Stop enabling

The Baltimore Sun

The screaming hasn't reached me yet (perhaps I should open the windows), but it's sure to come now that Oxford Dictionaries has announced the inclusion of, among other words, adorbsbinge-watchcrayhumblebrag,listicleneckbeardSMHside boobvape, and YOLO

When you hear someone braying that this is the greatest blow to civilization since Constantinople fell to the Turks, you should quietly explain two things:

First:, which maintains the Oxford Corpus and attempts to track contemporary usage, is not the same thing as the Oxford English Dictionary, though the OED might well get around to some of these words in its own good time, particularly if they prove to be more than ephemeral.

Second (and more important): Remind the agitated party that the function of a dictionary is to record words and their meanings so that someone who comes across an unfamiliar term can discover its sense. If you didn't know that SMH means shake my head (I didn't), you would have been at a loss without a reference to turn to. Or do you keep a young person in your retinue to explain things to you? 

I'd also advise not providing a platform for jeremiads. There is altogether too much catering to uninformed opinion. 

In a recent post at Sentence first, Stan Carey took on the Economist for its nonsensical stylebook entry on the split infinitive: "Its style guide says the rule prohibiting them is pointless, but 'to see it broken is so annoying to so many people that you should observe it,' which he calls "capitulation to an unfounded fetish." It "bans split infinitives because they annoy the people who are annoyed by split infinitives, and it allows this trifling antipathy to outweigh both the facts of usage and the good sense of less captious readers and of the paper itself."

This is sheer cowardice, and I doubt that it would require a great deal of courage to surmount it. 

For example, I've mentioned previously my experiment in allowing singular they through in copy at The Baltimore Sun. I have continued to do so through most of the current year, and to date have not received a single complaint. Let's look at the possibilities. 

Item: All retired English teachers have died. Not so. I know some. 

Item: No one reads the paper any longer, so no one notices. Doubtful. Complaints from readers about many other matters continue to arrive. 

Item: Singular they is increasingly acceptable and has become so familiar that people are used to it. What do you think is the likeliest possibility?

I recognize that some among you are chained to more rigid house styles than I am, or deal with writers or supervising editors so devoted to their baseless crotchets that challenging them would involve you in a time-consuming and likely fruitless tussle. I am sympathetic to your situations, though I think there are more opportunities for quiet subversion than you have explored.

But for anyone not thus Laocoonized, I say: Great Fowler's ghost, stop enabling.  



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