Stop the language – I want to get off!

Do you like the way language is changing?

The way we speak and write now reflects our 24/7/365 lifestyle. Hm, did I really write that?

I wouldn’t usually write that way, but that’s how our language is changing, whether we like it or not.

This presents a challenge to proofreaders. How do we know which changes to accept and which to reject?

Looking back to the 1990s – yes, that far back – I used to write a monthly page on ‘e-commerce’ for a business magazine. It was a new activity then, but now that so many businesses have an online shop the term doesn’t seem to be used so much. The hyphens in ‘e-mail’ and ‘on-line’ seem to have disappeared too, helped possibly by Apple’s iMac and iPhone products.

Since then ‘weblog’ appeared, only to be shortened to ‘blog’, while ‘blogging’ became a commonly used verb. ‘Tweet’, ‘share’ and ‘like’ have also taken on new meanings. And I won’t demonstrate ‘selfie’ here.

For me, the biggest test for any language change is: does it sound natural? While the rules can say that a certain usage is wrong, if that’s how the population speaks and writes, common usage makes it acceptable. Often I correct announcers on radio and television in my mind, but it’s too late if common usage has already established the change. We can’t go backwards.

Sometimes we have to let go. Grinding our teeth in disapproval isn’t healthy. And we don’t want our writing to sound as archaic as Chaucer or Shakespeare, especially if it’s sales material and we want people alive now to understand a message.

When we are proofreading, we always bear the rules in mind while considering how they affect the tone and understanding of the text for today’s readers. We don’t always like the way language is changing, but do agree that it has to develop to stay alive. It’s certainly interesting.

What do you think?

• Who am I? Robert Zarywacz | partner in Zarywacz | proofreader at | Please call us on 0333 0444 354 to ask about our proofreading services

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