Sunday, November 30, 2008

Strunk and White

We've had an interesting discussion on Wordcraft about prescriptivism. The post that started it all was about the use of literally in this sentence, "'I’ve had children just literally tear my heart out,' said Jackson." Then I mentioned my sister's laughing about, "the broadcaster said 'they were literally cherry picking.'" However, goofy pointed out that literally has been used in the figurative sense since 1839. Surely that's the case. Then another poster mentioned his disgust with people who mix up infer and imply. Again, goofy set us straight, saying that since 1533 infer has been used to mean imply. Yet, there are those who think those two words need to be clearly differentiated, such as the Strunk and White and Lynne Truss lovers.

I should talk. Even in the Wordcraft thread I got sucked into to complaining about the "wrong" use of literally. I think it comes down to enjoying being right. Yet when you dig into word origins, you frequently find out that the prescriptivist views are wrong. Unfortunately, those who are the biggest complainers about the use of words are often the laziest to dig into the etymology.

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