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The peeves that pass all understanding

Not long ago I stumbled across a series of exchanges on Facebook that perfectly represented the online pattern of language peevery. Let me show you how it develops.

Person A posts a detestation of a word or usage. Let’s say it is impact as a verb.

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Persons B, C, and D rush in to endorse Person A, amplifying their horror and outrage at this barbarism.

Person E chimes in to condemn impactful.

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Now that a variant on the original objection has registered, the field widens as Person F complains about hearing people use irregardless.

Person G, who has a feeling for cliche, says that irregardless is “like fingernails on the chalkboard.”

Person H attempts vainly to point out that many English verbs have been formed from nouns, or vice versa, and that impact as a verb is a perfectly normal formation. Person H is ignored.

Person I deplores the steady “dumbing-down” of the language because of (a) young people, (b) texting, (c) the internet, (d) the failure of the schools to insist on whatever Person I was taught at puberty, or (e) some combination of the factors.

Person J tries to bring in the idea of register, explaining that irregardless is not appropriate for formal English, but is nevertheless an actual word with a spelling, pronunciation, etymology, history, and a meaning that everybody understands.

Person K accuses Person J of being an “anything goes” elitist responsible for the overall dumbing-down and corruption of standards.

Person L starts ranting about misuse of literally.

Person M, taking all this in, sees that nothing is to be gained by entering into this conversation, in which the only actual purpose is public demonstration of the participants’ supposed superior mastery of English, and goes elsewhere, murmuring Dr. Johnson’s observation that “we are more pained by ignorance than pleased by instruction.”

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