You call it laziness; I call it a lifestyle

The Baltimore Sun

I got into a testy exchange on Facebook last week with someone who has a fresh take on the linguists-as-anything-goes-people canard. It was that linguists accept the common usages they find out of laziness, out of lack of energy to achieve precision and respect nuance.

Anyone who has read Geoffrey Pullum or Steven Pinker, to take two, will instantly dismiss as nonsensical any argument that they are unconcerned with precision and nuance, and the extent of their publications testifies to their industriousness.

But as someone born to loaf and forced to work, I take a personal interest in laziness. Given to sitzlust* since childhood, I would gladly spend my days leisurely working through a stack of books. When my daughter decided to give me Seven Deadly Sins cufflinks for Christmas and had to settle on two, she aptly picked Sloth and Wrath. And I have long expected that the Italians are on to something with dolce far niente.

Loafing, then, is a natural state. Describing it as “laziness” carries a disagreeable charge of moral disapproval.

We see this frequently in objections by the peeververein to non-standard usages: Those people are just lazy. They could speak like a book, in formal English, but they are just too slipshod and irresponsible to speak and write properly, and they are turning a noble language into brutish gabble, &c., &c.

It never seems to dawn on the peeververein that people who use non-standard English, either in a regional or ethnic dialect or an idiolect, are perfectly happy in talking and writing in a way that is familiar and comfortable, that they have a right to use the language as they choose, and that it would be a disagreeable world if everyone was a stilted as the peevers are.

The laziness accusation can also be seen in disapproval of the poor, who would not be out of work or stuck in deadening minimum wage jobs if they weren’t so damned indolent. This accusation slides quickly into ethnic stereotypes, which are often an unspoken component of linguistic condemnation.

“Laziness” talk is merely one component of what I described in the post “What grammar arguments are really about” as an attempt to boost social status by asserting linguistic and moral superiority. It’s all rather obvious, and tiresome.

The time is not far off when I will, voluntarily or not, be in retirement. Since I will not be able to afford to go anywhere or do anything, I will take up my books and revert to my natural state, kickin’ it.

Look down your nose at that if you will. I won’t care.

  

*A term Archie Goodwin applies to Nero Wolfe in Murder by the Book.

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