However, it was disconcerting to see a recent blog — apparently fairly popular — that praised a resource published in 1926 and “lightly revised” in 1965. 1965? That was 50 years ago!
Henry W. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, published in 1926, is still the greatest of all English grammar guides. The first edition or the lightly revised second edition (1965) is highly recommended.
There’s a balance between appreciating and acknowledging “traditional” grammar guidelines and word usage, and recognizing the evolution that introduces new words, new meanings or uses of existing words, and changed-but-sensible uses of punctuation.
Consider these words that were added to the Oxford English Dictionary during 2015. Some have been in use for years but were not acknowledged as real words until this past year.
crowdfunding: process of raising money to fund what is typically a project or business venture through many donors using an online platform such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Crowdfunder
downtick: a small decrease or slight downward trend
e-cigarette: a battery-powered vaporizer that simulates the feeling of smoking, but without burning tobacco
externship: experiential learning opportunities, similar to internships, provided by educational institutions to give students short practical experiences in their field of study
jeggings: tight-fitting stretch pants for women, styled to resemble a pair of denim jeans
photobomb: to spoil a photograph of (a person or thing) by unexpectedly appearing in the camera’s field of view as the picture is taken, typically as a prank or practical joke
tenderpreneur: a South African term for a person in government who abuses his or her political power and influence to secure government tenders and contracts
webisode: an online video that presents an original short film or promotes a product, movie or television series
As I’ve often said, I might be a self-proclaimed ruthless editor, but I don’t always want to be on the forefront of change when it comes to language. It takes time for new words or new uses of words to become known and accepted.
In fact, eight words in the above list and definitions were flagged by spellcheck as incorrect.
Yet new technologies, new products, new practices and new experiences require new ways to express them.
The Associated Press Stylebook, heralded as “widely used as a writing and editing reference in newsrooms, classrooms and corporate offices worldwide,” is my word and punctuation resource of choice. Subscribing to the online version keeps me up-to-date.
With a nod to Fowler and his original 1926 dictionary, let’s be aware of tradition. But let’s also acknowledge that language is dynamic; it necessarily evolves so we can communicate clearly.
Do you have a favorite new word? Send it — with its meaning — my way!
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