Home > Pet Peeves, Publishing/Printing > The Bastardization of the English Language

The Bastardization of the English Language

I thought the English language was dead when someone decided they didn’t like the word people. Somehow it wasn’t good enough. So they started saying persons. It is to the point now where most legal and official documents use persons instead of people. That must be it. That is the end of the English language as we know it. As a former English teacher and current English nerd I was saddened by this development. What’s next, childs? There have to be others out there in the English-speaking world who agree this is a travesty of monumental proportions. But, apparently not. No one cares.

Well one little word doesn’t mean the whole language is on its way down a deep, dark, bottomless pit. If only that were the end of it. But there are, unfortunately, other reasons. For me the unholy trifecta consists of: administrate, orientate and commentate. What happened to administer, orient and comment? What does a commentator do? He comments. That’s right, comment is also a verb. This one is my personal favourite because you hear it on TV all the time. Commentators, political, sports or otherwise, are beamed into our living rooms and on our smart phones. They are authority figures, of one kind or another. And we take them at their word when they speak. Unfortunately no one has ever taught them how to speak English. They are not authority figures on the English language. Do not take them to be so.

Don’t even get me started on its vs. it’s, your vs. you’re, and any number of other mistakes a large portion of the population make on a daily basis.

And then of course there is the worst of the worst: functionality. This word didn’t exist before about ten years ago. How did English-speaking society survive without this word? How did we describe the ability of a device? Very easily actually. We used the preexisting word: function. Yes, function is also a noun. A device has function. We can increase the function of something.

I have another question for you: Is something ‘free’ or ‘for free’? It’s free. Free is an adjective, not a noun.  Don’t believe me, look it up in a dictionary. Oh, wait, that doesn’t work anymore.

It used to be that simple. If someone was mistaken and didn’t believe you when you corrected their English you could tell them to check the dictionary. Not anymore. The dictionary people have bowed to popular opinion and belief and now on a yearly basis infest the dictionary with made up and redundant words. Don’t believe me, look it up. Persons, functionality and a whole host of other ridiculous mutations of English words are now in the dictionary. I have in the past instructed my students not to use words such as functionality because it makes you sound less intelligent to anyone who actually understands the language. And I don’t mean to anyone whose first language is English because they don’t necessarily understand their own language.

Just because English is your first, and possibly your only, language doesn’t mean you understand it. It doesn’t mean you are an authority figure on it. I can play hockey, but I probably shouldn’t teach it. I can fry an egg, doesn’t mean I can teach cookery. The ability to do something doesn’t make one an authority figure on it. It doesn’t make one a good teacher. Ability doesn’t equal expertise.

English is difficult enough. But its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: it changes. Not all change is evolution though, some of it is mutation. And unwanted, dangerous mutations must be stamped out before they infect the entire language. I hope it’s not too late…

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  1. February 8, 2015 at 04:23

    I’ll bet you love it when someone says, “Basically, we were just hanging out.”

  2. May 19, 2016 at 00:26

    You missed my pet peeve, “problematic”… but it’s not a problem.

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