Thoughts on Linguistic Purity

Life lessons – They only work if you understand them, grasp them, pick up on them. If you don’t get it, life smacks you in the face with it again. And again, until you do.

I wrote the following last night.



So, Kerrie and I were at Barnes & Noble tonight, reading. We were reading in comfy chairs in the middle of the store. We were reading our own books, not books we took off the shelves to pull back and bend the covers, mangle, trash, make un-vendable, and leave. The books were our own.

I was reading a book by an author who will remain unnamed for now. This is an author for whom I have accolades and respect. He is a man who is extraordinarily prolific and has taken his genre by balls and commanded it. Since I have known about him, I have heard nothing but lionizing comments about his works. He is a master of structure and character and, I will say again, I have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for him.

But tonight, for some reason, put me over the edge.

I had heard so much about his works that I decided to pick one up (one of his most prominent and notable) and read it. And I did.

And then came page 403 (of 657). I stopped. Why? A word.

I had excused two errors up to that point (using the word reticent when he meant to use reluctant), but this one wasn’t working for me.

“I don’t know,” — said. “There was always another job — each one bigger than the last. I guess when you’re a crewleader like him, the game can get addicting…”

For the love of all that is verbally holy, the word is addictive, not addicting.

I closed the book and just sat there a bit. I was honestly dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe a professional author of book upon book upon book would do that. I had to get up and walk around the store. I know, looney, isn’t it? It was not making sense.
Then I thought, ‘well, maybe he just didn’t know.’ There are people who don’t know that; no big deal. But wouldn’t the editor grab it? I mean wouldn’t the editor grab the author and say, “Umm, yeah, so about this word you used..”?

I believe authors have a duty to the language they choose to employ. I mean, Nabokov wrote Lolita and English was his second or third language. And the prose therein is unreal! It’s fantastic!

Call me a retard, call me verbally rigid, whatever. I’m not making a judgement about this author. I’m making a notation. I’m not saying I will never read his works again. I will say that it threw me for a loop and I may have to take a breather before coming back to it, but sure, I’ll go for it again. I’m just saying


I didn’t send it out last night (obviously). Last night actually bothered me. What I mean to say is, I actually allowed last night to bother me. Up until then I considered myself a pretty laid-back dude that didn’t let a whole lot of things bother him. Let’s just say things like 9/11, terrorism, the economy, the concept of thieving politicians, rapists, murderers, paedophiles, none of that shit bothers me. Then that one hit. It was like a big slap in the face. I was seriously bothered.
I was bothered after I came home, when I went to bed and when I woke up the next (this) morning.
I decided to think about the incident, consider it, and ask myself, ‘why are you allowing this to have such power over you?’ The answer came back almost instantly; my inner ego/the arrogant verbally-better-than-you spoke up:

“Well, because I know what I’m talking about. ‘Addicting’ is not a fucking word! But if I bring this up to these people, they’ll do one of several things:
A: Just commit the error more often just to piss me off.
B: Look it up in their permissive descriptive (I-accept-all-loose-usage) dictionaries and tell me (whining voice) “See? I told you! Look, it says right there on Dictionary/ (ETC)! See? See?!”
C: Argue with me no matter how much sense I try and speak into them.
D: Correct it (but this hardly happens)
Jesus Christ, I can’t believe I have angry about this!”

Then another thought came to me; it slammed into me like a brick in my face!

This week (June 4-8, 2012) members of the Westboro Baptist Church arrived in Olympia, Washington to protest against gay marriage, homosexuality and a “sinning nation.” They’re from Kansas, and they came all the way to Olympia to protest. They spent their time on different days protesting in front of the capitol and at a local high school to preach their message. They also protested at one woman’s funeral (an innocent murder victim of a carjacking). Their signs were hateful and carried a very low energy. <>

A sign-holder for the Westboro Baptist Church protests against gay marriage and other issues.

I thought about this group of people and how they use one book and take their own message from this one book and allow no room for anything else. If God said it (in the way they understand it), then it’s the law of the land, and everyone else is a sinner.

Then I looked at the way I viewed language…

Even telling you that ‘the resemblance was shocking’, would be an understatement. I’m not telling you that I’m religious or that I’m going to be religious any time soon – especially not with the above-mentioned church. But damn, I’ve spent several hours just in quiet contemplation looking at myself with regard to how I view language.
I have been doing the same thing for most of my life. I mean thinking about it now:

I would take “truth” out of one (type of) book.
People who didn’t know of that book or didn’t use it was outside “true understanding.”
I would (if given the chance) preach (about words and English) until I was blue in the face and no one would be able to change my mind because I knew the truth.
I wanted to be right – thereby putting me “above” others (because I’ve I’m right, then someone else is wrong).
I have considered myself a purist when it comes to language. (*this is an actual Linguistic term meaning someone who is in strict observation of language an insists on it’s purity. Oddly (and accurately), it sounds pretty close to the word Puritan.

It’s not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.

If you would have shown me the above list and told me they listed traits of a certain individual, I would think, “Wow. What a dick.”

Anyway, I have looked back and thought about how many judgements this type of thinking allows for (and promotes). I can see people looking at the protesters of the Westboro Baptist Church and labeling them as an offensive and hateful group and it would make sense to me. But, I think that what I have been doing in my mind for a great part of my life with regard to language is the same thing.

Compare two groups of musicians. The first is the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The second is a large group of 7th graders who love music and have been practicing on the same sorts instruments.
On the whole, an audience would most-likely listen to a piece played by the NYPO and think to themselves, “Wow, that was fantastic music.” But when they heard the 7th Graders, they would probably say they way they played wasn’t quite right; there’s still some improvement to take care of.
But, I don’t find that to be true. What’s true is that neither of them play beautiful music, nor do they play terrible music, but members of the audience have established a set of standards. And when they hear the music played, they use words ranging from ‘beautiful to horrible’ to place the music along that set of standards.
Same thing with language; it’s just that the standards have been there so long, that now the general populace may label it tradition or “rules”. The truth is there are no veritable rules, but a generalized standard of acceptance as to what is “sweet sounding and pleasing” language and what is not.
Language evolves, and though I’ve fostered a love of language my whole life, I am by no means one whose word decides its direction, nor should I be. I am merely a drop in the river of language and when it flows over the edge, my drop in the waterfall will fall as it will.
So, dear author, addictive/addicting, I know what you mean. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t have done it differently, but I get it.

To Life (or Source, or Mind, or Allah, or Jehovah, or Krishna, or Amaterasu, or God, or Dave…whatever), thanks for the lesson. I think I got it.

Post script: Oh, I’ve decided to pick up where I left off. I’m on 404 now.


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Linguistic Purity

  1. Don’t you miss the good old days when you’d see the friendly protesters in Asian countries? I have to say that I couldn’t take my eyes away from your blog today, quite addicting. You know what I love the most about non-word addicting? That my computer recognizes it as a word and fails to red line it;)

  2. Ha! Dude – what a perfect comment. Laughed when I saw it.
    You know, I never paid any attention to the protesters in Asian countries. It’s not something I usually realize. But the cats who passed through Oly this week were the talk of the town – didn’t matter where I went, someone was talking about ’em. Pretty popular.
    Love that your computer didn’t pick up on it. That’s what happens when you use a PC.

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