Language Change Is Happening Fast!

Bill Walsh Copy Editor

Author and Washington Post Copy Editor Bill Walsh

2paragraphs: The data are saying that this is an historic time for shareable content, with everyone having her/his own virtual printing press. Robert Frost once asserted that poetry without rhyme is like tennis without a net--is that akin to today's commonly practiced writing without rules? Or is it literally that people couldn't care less?

Bill Walsh: Language change happened, is happening and will happen. It's the middle one that makes some of us grouchy. Change sometimes represents innovation, but more often it stems from ignorance. Now that everyone's a writer/publisher, and few of us have editors, ignorance is more likely to be reinforced. Change happens faster, and it's more likely to be happening right before our eyes.

Looking way back, I find it amusing that an apron grew out of a misunderstanding of a napron. I'm not quite old enough to lament the acceptance of host and contact as verbs. But I still fight the fight on "grow the business" and "impact the economy," and I can't stop yelling into the mike that it's not a "mic." No need to reinvent the wheel, kids -- the word was there in front of you all along! Same with aha: No need to invent "a-ha" or "a-hah" or "ah-hah." Why did we get email when we never got xray or tshirt? Precedent, people! That kind of word doesn't work that way! But, sigh, now I guess it does. Starbucks comes along, a shop that sells coffee, and we forget that five minutes ago a coffee shop was the restaurant attached to our hotel, where we could get bacon and eggs at all hours. George W. Bush comes along and we forget about that George Bush who was in all the papers. Flash mob is a brand-new term for goofy public performance art, and almost immediately it's a brand-new term for gang violence. Amnesia is a fact of life. Now, what was I saying?

--Bill Walsh is a copy editor at The Washington Post and the author of Lapsing Into a Comma, The Elephants of Style, and Yes, I Could Care Less: How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk. He is frequently witty, exasperated and kind at The Slot and @TheSlot.