in english, Uncategorized

On the Abuse of “Nonplussed”

Ben Yagoda explores a problem that I’m endlessly fascinated by: When do grammarians such as myself decide to let go of words’ original meanings?

We all know that words change their meanings all the time, sometimes glacially (the prescriptivists have been fighting on behalf of the original sense of disinterested for centuries), sometimes relatively quickly (that nonplussed thing snuck up on me). But this fact raises a question (it doesn’t beg the question—that means something else): How long should we hold on to a word’s old meaning?

  • What I find interesting is that language is, at its core, a wholly "political" endeavor – in that utterances only have meaning because a group of people gathered together and agreed upon that meaning. Shouldn't all that really matter be that "I can understand" what you are saying? Rather than: "you are not following the rules that have been laid down by our forefathers who have assigned a meaning to this utterance." In short, correcting grammatical mistakes – even when you wholly understand what is being said, is nothing more than reinforcing the yolk of white/anglo dominance? I mean, last time I checked, words don't have inherent meaning.