Languages change. Don’t be a peever!

Do you still speak Shakespearean English? Or, to go further back, Chaucerian English?

No, of course you don’t.

So why do so many people think that in 2020 we should speak the way people spoke in 1950, that 2020 speech is “wrong” but 1950 speech is “right” somehow? Apparently language change within your lifetime is bad.

But of course it isn’t. If languages didn’t change, we would all be speaking like Chaucer from 600 years ago, and we’d be reading Beowulf from 1000 years ago, and everyone in France would still be speaking Latin,… and so forth. Language change is inevitable, even when it happens in front of your eyes, as with the AP Stylebook; Mignon Fogarty observes that “It was a bit of a quiet year for updates. There were no shockers like we had in some previous years, like when they said it’s now OK to use ‘more than’ to mean ‘over,’ or to write ‘email’ without a hyphen, or to lowercase the word ‘internet.’”

So which changes this year have received the AP imprimatur? Let’s see. Here are two of them:

‘Pled’ is now OK

As far as style changes go, the change that will probably affect the most writers is that it is now OK to use “pled” as the past tense of the verb “to plead,” as in “Squiggly pled guilty.”

Paula said they had received a lot of feedback from writers who wanted to use “pled,” so in her words, they took away the “schoolmarmish admonition” not to use “pled.” They had previously called it “colloquial,” but you can now use it if you want to. (I will note, though, that Garner’s Modern English Usage and the Chicago Manual of Style still do recommend “pleaded” over “pled.” As in “Squiggly pleaded guilty.” It’s what I’ll continue to use, but you are now not violating AP style if you choose to use “pled.”)

‘Preheat’ is now OK

The other big change probably won’t affect as many writers, but it did get a lot of attention during the presentation: AP style will now allow writers to use the word “preheat,” as in “preheat the oven.” (I know. I told you it was a slow year.)

In the past, the argument was that “preheat” is redundant. You heat the oven; preheating isn’t any different. They had recommended saying just “Heat the oven to 350” (or whatever temperature you needed).

Feel free to disagree, but language changes. Don’t be a peever!

It’s fine to have opinions, but your opinions should be backed up by data. By observations. By descriptions. Most of all, you need to stop peeving about language change: it’s natural, it happens whether you like it or not, and if it turns Latin into French you can live with the result — two different languages, not one that’s superior and one that’s inferior. As the great linguist William Labov, founder or sociolinguistics, says:

Communities differ in the extent to which they stigmatize the newer forms of language, but I have never yet met anyone who greeted them with applause. Some older citizens welcome the new music and dances, the new electronic devices and computers. But no one has ever been heard to say, “It’s wonderful the way young people talk today. It’s so much better than the way we talked when I was a kid.” … The most general and most deeply held belief about language is the Golden Age Principle: At some time in the past, language was in a state of perfection. It is understood that in such a state, every sound was correct and beautiful, and every word and expression was proper, accurate, and appropriate. Furthermore, the decline from that state has been regular and persistent, so that every change represents a falling away from the golden age, rather than a return to it. Every new sound will be heard as ugly, and every new expression will be heard as improper, inaccurate, and inappropriate. Given this principle it is obvious that language change must be interpreted as nonconformity to established norms, and that people will reject changes in the structure of language when they become aware of them.

— William Labov, Principles of Linguistic Change, Vol. 2: Social Factors (2001), p. 514, as quoted in Wikipedia

Categories: Linguistics