Posted by: brian | November 13, 2008

The rules of proper language use (usage?)

After reading another item decrying change in language, I heard one of the voices in my head trying to tell me something. The article in question suggests that change in language is okay, but only if it’s already happened, and provided it isn’t a change that contradicts how “we” use the language. Here, the musings of one Xandy con Martine:

I grew up among circus folk, and I am infuriated every time I hear the word “geek” used in any sense other than its original, correct, and only acceptable sense, which is “a performer engaging in bizarre acts like biting the head off a live chicken.” We stopped biting heads off of chickens when I was a kid back in the 70s, but true geeks still exist, performing “outrageous” acts such as swallowing swords or fire, pushing needles through various body parts without inflicting pain or drawing blood, and other “extreme” or “bizarre” acts that continue to fascinate and entertain audiences around the world. The reason that geeks have become a marginalized part of society is that they are now labeled as “freaks,” and are viewed in a negative light. The Space Cowboy Freak Show, in Australia, is a geek in the true sense, and it is regrettable that he must use the word “freak” to differentiate himself from “computer enthusiasts,” which is the correct label for people who enjoy technological paraphernalia. They have stolen our word and caused the demise of the circus industry!

Furthermore, I’ve had this discussion with a number of friends, and some of them suggest that the term “computer enthusiast” is too clumsy, and that maybe there should be some other word for that group. I completely disagree with this suggestion. There are really only two ways for this to be done. The first involves the same type of misappropriation that took place with the word “geek,” where a word is co-opted and its meaning changed to suit the interests of some small portion of society. The other way would be to introduce a new word to the language, either by taking one from another language or just making one up from thin air. Neither of these options is acceptable if we are to keep our pure and perfect language from being further degraded. Isn’t it bad enough that we have to contend with language whores who seek to destroy our noble English heritage? We cannot invite further corruption by suggesting that we introduce new words into the language. If anything, we ought to eliminate some of bastard words that clutter our vocabulary at present, so that we can return to the linguistic purity of our past.

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