Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Everyone's descriptive nowadays

Sarah Palin's recent use of the made up word "refudiate" (an apparent blend of refute and repudiate, neither of which would have been accurate in the context she was speaking) has sparked a discussion about our attitudes towards new words and slips of the tongue.

George W Bush was famous for his mistakes (misunderestimate being one notable example) and Palin was quick to make light of her error by referring to Bush, but also by referring to an apparent slip by Barack Obama (wee-wee'd up) and, more surprisingly, William Shakespeare.

In a tweet a day or two back she stated in her folksy way that "English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words. Got to celebrate it!". And yes the bard did coin plenty of expressions (whether or not he made them up himself or was the first to put them in print and into wider circulation isn't really clear) as you can see from this link. But is Palin in the same category?

Some have argued not, while others have argued that it's just snobbery to pick out faults in other people's language. You could go further and argue that attacking Palin's language use actually adds to her credibility as an outsider and maverick, by making her look like she's being picked on by an intellectual, liberal elite. So where do we draw the line? Are we all descriptivists now, embracing every change to our language however weird...or wrong? Does anything go? And is it rude to point out mistakes in usage?

For more look here on the OUP blog and here in today's Guardian.So is Sarah Palin really a desriptivist (someone who believes in the natural evolution of language) or just a numbskull (someone who doesn't believe in evolution)?

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