Wednesday, September 28, 2022

It's all the rage

 Words and usages in English go in and out of fashion. When a new expression, or a repurposed old one, emerges, the eager adapters jump on it, because it's all the rage, and the traditionalists scorn it, because all is rage. 

I've mentioned elsewhere that contact as a verb was widely deplored as a vulgarism in the 1940s and 1950s (" 'Contact" is not a verb in this house," Nero Wolfe tells Archie Goodwin). But as the means of getting in contact multiplied, the objection faded. The objection to hopefully as a sentence adverb meaning "it is hoped that" from the 1970s and 1980s has also been wearing away, having had little foundation to start with beyond disliking "the way those people talk." 

Thirty years ago, John S. Carroll as editor of The Sun had strong traditionalist views about language, and he deplored using host as a verb. So I dutifully added the prohibition to our house stylebook, and the copy desk dutifully changed every host as verb to play host to. In time John Carroll and the language moved on, and at The Sun we hosted without trepidation. With good reason. The current sense of hosting events carries a sense of sponsorship, often of large-scale events, by organizations, something beyond the traditional sense of receiving guests and entertaining socially. And play host to as a substitute is stilted. 

Thirty years ago, The Sun also had a prohibition in its stylebook damning the use of suck to mean "objectionable or inadequate" as "vulgar street language." The reason, when younger reporters asked for an explanation, was that the word suggested fellation, and their reaction was "Oh come on." (Merriam-Webster still calls it "slang, sometimes vulgar.")

We also upheld the pupil/student distinction but dropped it as educators increasingly came to see younger children as active participants in their learning rather than passive recipients of information. The Associated Press Stylebook has eliminated all vestiges of the traditional distinction. We also got the occasional letter from a reader objecting to our referring to children as kids ("Kids are goats"), but that is another item that the AP Stylebook has quietly heaved over the side. 

Language, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all our cavils away.