Let a hundred flowers bloom
[Be advised that the previous posting, "Shoot if you must this old gray head," to which this one refers was apparently dropped for a time but has been restored.]
It didn’t take long for comments (two) on the previous posting to show up. Here’s one. "I care about language but question that distinctions like McIntyre’s ‘dilemma’ are any longer relevant. Language belongs to the people who use it. Let it evolve."
When Odysseus had to pass between Scylla and Charybdis, he faced a dilemma, a choice between two equally disagreeable possibilities. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Homer again. Don’t start with me.) If you find that dilemma is the word for your situation, if difficulty, problem, predicament, plight, quandary and fix are somehow inadequate to your purpose, do you find me crouching athwart the keyboard? Do I seize the pencil from your hand? Go ahead.
Of course the language belongs to the people who use it. We have the English language because Anglo-Saxon fell into the hands of illiterate peasants in the 11th century, and they, because they were ignorant of proper grammar, spent the next several generations simplifying its monstrosities.
And yes, of course, it evolves as surely as tectonic plates shift the landscape about, usually imperceptibly, sometimes abruptly. An uneasy stability sometimes develops. Regiments of schoolteachers have been unable to eradicate ain’t from the language. But schoolteachers are people who use the language, too, and they are the reason that ain’t has remained restricted to colloquial usage.
I’m an editor; my job is to make judgments about language for my publication. I don’t edit your conversation. You may spell and capitalize in e-mails any way you please. I don’t edit menus or billboards. I don’t edit anything unless I am paid for it. But when I edit for The Sun, I enforce the standards and preferences the paper has established. (Standards and preferences over which I admittedly have some influence.) My job is to insist on as much precision in usage as we can achieve, without resorting to fussiness and pedantry. That requires judgment. This blog describes how I arrive at those judgments. You can take them or leave them.