Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Language-Change Index.

Language-Change Index.

The third edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage reflects several new practices. Invariably inferior forms, for example, are now marked with asterisks preceding the term or phrase, a marking common in linguistics.

The most interesting new feature is the Language-Change Index. Its purpose is to measure how widely accepted various linguistic innovations have become. Such a measuring system for usage guides was first proposed by Louis G. Heller and James Macris in 1967. They noted that “usage specialists can make a clear-cut demarcation of phases in the evolutionary process relevant to the inception and development of alternative terms.”

In these tips, the five stages are tagged as:

Stage 1 (“rejected”): A new form emerges as an innovation (or a dialectal form persists) among a small minority of the language community, perhaps displacing a traditional usage (e.g.: “already” misused for “all ready”).

Stage 2 (“widely shunned”): The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community but remains unacceptable in standard usage (e.g.: “penultimate” misused for “ultimate”).

Stage 3 (“widespread but . . .”): The form becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage (e.g.: “recoup” for “recuperate”).

Stage 4 (“ubiquitous but . . .”): The form becomes virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots) (e.g.: “defense” pronounced with the accent on the first syllable).

Stage 5 (“fully accepted”): The form is universally accepted (not counting pseudo-snoot eccentrics) (e.g.: “sculpt” as a verb).

Quotation of the Day: “What is known as ‘dialect’ writing looks simple and easy, but it is not.” Mark Twain (unpublished letter of 3 Apr. 1890), in “Mark Twain on Usage,” 33 Am. Speech 70, 71 (1958).

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One Response to Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Language-Change Index.

  1. Pingback: Why yes, I COULD care less | Word Geeks

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