Language before rules
I have retweeted a comment by Joseph M. Williams that Stan Carey sent out earlier today:
We must reject as folklore any rule … regularly ignored by otherwise careful, educated, and intelligent writers of first-rate prose.
The principle underlying this statement is one that the peevers and purists fail to grasp: Language precedes the rules; the rules follow the language.
The reason that we have English is that generations of illiterate peasants ignored the rules of Anglo-Saxon and promiscuously picked up vocabulary and patterns from Norman French and Latin, mangling all three.
Attempts to legislate or dictate usage may have some spotty successes — there are still people who mistakenly adhere to John Dryden’s dictum, adopted from Latin, forbidding prepositions at the ends of sentences, though many more ignore it; Noah Webster succeeded in changing some spellings in American English, notably removing the u from color, honor, and others, though many of his recommendations did not stick.
But the language goes where the users take it, and the authorities on usage can only follow.
Also on Twitter, @PreciseEdit has advised “Avoid nominalization: Keep verbs as verbs, not as nouns.” This advice should please the people who despise impact as a verb, but it is an oversimplification. The language blog at The Economist has a much more nuanced approach to the verbing of nouns. In fact, the practice of shifting a word from one part of speech to another is so commonplace that it has a name in classical rhetoric, anthimeria. Shakespeare uses it (“I’ll unhair thy head” in Antony and Cleopatra); drink is either a noun or a verb in context.
The language regularly throws up neologisms and vogue usages, most of which flare and go out. They attract the bandwagon people, who chase after novelty, and they repel the cautious. There is nothing inherently wrong about receptivity to novelties, and there is nothing inherently wrong about resistance to novelties until it is clear that they have established themselves.
What is wrong, or at least futile, is to decide in advance what is and is not acceptable, based on some presumed rule or a personal taste. This is why an Academy of English will not work, and you are not even an academy.