There was a suggestion in the Sydney Morning Herald the other week that English could happily be simplified – no more ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ confusion, no more malapropism involving their, there and they’re.
The advent of self-pubbing, it seems, has brought with it a decline in the correct use of apostrophes – and, of course, I can hear the scream of the grammar Nazis from here.
The thing about language – and particularly grammar – is that it changes over time. Inevitably. If it didn’t, we’d all be speaking like Chaucer, or Anglo Saxon. Actually, we do the latter anyway whenever we swear. But except for the rude words we have to accept that the language has changed. And it’s continuing to change. Of late, for instance, ‘invitation’ – a noun – has been replaced by ‘invite’, its verb form. A few years ago we would ‘receive an invitation’, and we could ‘invite people’ to our birthdays. Now, we receive ‘an invite’. I’ve even seen it in official correspondence. Technically that makes it a gerund – a verb that, in its non-infinitive form – can be used as a noun.
Should we really complain? Some people might, though such attitudes put me in mind of ‘deportment’, the middle class Victorian era conceit that etiquette, for women, was defined by their ability to walk without bobbing, as if on wheels. The conceit far outlasted the crinoline dresses into which it was born. Even into the 1920s, stern-faced tutors would make upwardly aspiring young women walk with books balanced on their heads in order to master this art. In that age of flappers, cloche hats and short tube dresses, society had moved on, but the ways in which people were judged and measured had not.
It’s the same, I contend, with language. Not that I am going to drop apostrophes or misuse homonyms in a hurry. But personally I wouldn’t complain if others do.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014