Language changes. Live with it.
Today a friend sent me a link to a recent diatribe by Joel Hilton on the subject of word abuse. Since my employees oft call me a word nazi, he thought I’d get a kick out of it. Right he was. I enjoy pieces like this. Honest. I get them.
Still, I am compelled to reply to the likes of Mr. Hilton, “Oh, come on.”
To cling to a word’s original meaning to the exclusion of emerging ones is to commit the Genetic Fallacy. A word’s definition and use are determined by how large numbers of people define and use it, regardless of what your dictionary may have to say about it. Dictionaries, after all, do not lead but follow the language.
So it is that when Hilton opines that the “... only time we should use the word ‘viral’ is when we immediately follow it with the word ‘infection,’” I opine right back, “Nonsense.” Viral as used in the social media is correct precisely because vast numbers of people understand and accept it that way.
There is a fine line between holding to correct use and being an immovable grouch who denies the dynamic nature of language. It still matters whether you use affect or effect, discrete or discreet, compliment or complement, and their or there or they’re. But there need no longer be any shame in using over in place of more than, anxious in place of eager, and, in place of the decidedly snobbish and reactionary it is to be hoped, using hopefully.
When enough people misuse a word or assign it a new meaning, the new use becomes correct. That is how language works. Witness what gay meant not long ago as opposed to what it commonly means today. Decimate offers another example. And consider that today it’s acceptable to say It’s me; one utters the technically correct It is I at the risk of sounding weird.
Though I shudder at the thought — admitting to a bit of the entrenched pedant myself — literally may well be on its way to meaning figuratively but emphatically ... infer to meaning imply ... ironic to meaning gut-wrenching ... comprised to meaning composed ... and so forth.
Confusion, even outrage, naturally erupt during any transition. But if criteria is destined to become acceptable as a singular as well as a plural, my advice is to sit back, relax and enjoy the phenomena.