Mike Pope, an excellent fellow (he reads this blog, so how could he be otherwise?), answered back to my “Now for the name-calling” post
and gave permission for me to quote him. Excerpts from his note folllow.
I'm not sure whether it's an honor to be featured as the Cranky Guy of the Week, but it does give a body pause to think that a bunch of editorially inclined folks will be scrutinizing one's rants. :-)
I am an editor (technical) and I spend pretty much all day every day cleaning and tightening prose. In this, you and your readers and I are all on the same page, allowing for certain differences in context. Like y'all, we in our little group aim at, and occasionally despair of, clarity in writing. In fact, we have a running email thread to which we add the howlers of the day, which often consist of sentences with the suppleness of a brick wall.
But I'm sure you've deduced — or hope you have — that my various comments are aimed at undercutting the hyperbole about language that suggests that the barbarians are at the gate, and that only the most concerted effort will enable our noble language to survive. History suggests, of course, that English will get along — indeed, blaze along — just fine without the ministrations of our particular priesthood. Or indeed, in spite of our tender attentions.
Words like impactful and leverage and (one of ours) instantiate aren't "gibberish," of course. Lots of people use these terms every day with no noticeable loss of communicative ability. They surely can be strung together into sentences that are hard to parse or in which the sum of the words is less than their parts. But people can just as easily do that with words that are real, in-the-dictionary words, as we know all too well. Unclear writing (and thinking) don't require words whose status remains lexicographically "under consideration." One impactful doth not chaos make. For that, we need entire bureaucracies. :-)
It was Peter Zicari, another excellent fellow who stepped in it by incautiously using the word gibberish in a comment, and it was I who stepped into it further by presuming to classify Mr. Pope as one of the unthinking, anything-goes, permissivist-linguist axis. All of us were perhaps relying more on our reflexes than our thinking.
English is getting along just fine. It is a world language, more pervasive than Latin was in its time — one reason that efforts to “protect” it by making it an “official language” of some municipality look particularly silly.
But it is also mutable, as Robertson Davies pointed out in The Rebel Angels: “Funny how languages break down and turn into something else. Latin was rubbed away until it degenerated into dreadful lingos like French and Italian and Spanish, and lo! people found out that quite new things could be said in those degenerate languages — things nobody had ever thought of in Latin. English is breaking down now in the same way — becoming a world language that every Tom Dick and Harry must learn, and speak in a way that would give Doctor Johnson the jim-jams.”
This is why efforts to “preserve” the putative “purity” of English are also silly.
What is not silly is the effort, which Mr. Zicari, Mr. Pope and I are engaged in daily, is to establish what constitutes, for today, for our readers in our publications, clarity and precision in the use of the language. To that purpose we bend not only our learning, but also our taste and our judgment. It is not the barbarians at the gate whom we address — they all seem want to learn English. It is the citizens inside whose carelessness and affectations mar their own prose.