What are Words Worth?

The Strength and Weakness of the English Language

Why Write this?

Recently a friend of mine tweeted despairingly on the subject of language abuse, in this particular case the ‘nouning’ of invite (nouning being an example of verbing;-). I initially pointed out that growing old inevitably leads one to bemoaning abuse of language by the younger generation (yeah like whatever). Beyond that though I thought I would write a quick blog entry to give me sense of things, and also to give me a chance for a good rant!

English – how does it work?

There are some excellent books on the development of English and how is survived the Normans through its power to adapt and adopt (I recommend The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg as a good, accessible read.

The essence here is that English continually changes, absorbs new ideas and abandons others, this does however mean that as you grow older you get out of touch with how the language is evolving. I thought I would here document as an archive a few of the things I will miss (and those I would like to defend). I might even throw in some things I won’t miss at all!

Fewer not Less

The perfectly serviceable word fewer is fast losing ground to less even though they are different – fewer is used for discrete things (five pound notes) less for continuous things (money). I blame more as it brazenly gets used for both, confusing things meaning that whenever I go to a supermarket checkout I get upset by the sign ‘Five items or less’ which should say ‘Five items or fewer’. It may not matter but removal of granularity does render the language coarser.

Latinate Plurals

In the 80s people like me worried about being ‘correct’ when making words plural; we worried about:

  • Data and datum
  • Forum and fora (not forums)
  • Agenda, addenda and many more.

Now this is almost gone, maybe driven by the spread of the US influence in business, maybe because English is hard enough to handle without the Latin influence. Even lawyers are moving away from de facto!

Old fashioned Plurals

I was shocked to learn (via my children) the rules of spelling have moved on and left me behind. In particular I was shocked to find that the rule on making a plural from words ending in ‘f’ has gone. We now have:

  • Roofs not rooves
  • Hoofs not hooves
  • Elfs not elves (though Lord of the Rings has helped this fight its corner).

These were quaint, harmed no-one, probably point back at where the words came from but do we miss them? Maybe not.

The apostrophe

Why can so few people deal with apostrophes? Why do they insist in putting them in when they make an acronym plural? It’s CDs, DVDs and so on apostrophe means possession (apart from his / hers / theirs / ours / its of course!).

Acronyms with Fullstops

Ok we don’t miss this R.A.D.A.R – RADAR – radar even! I hank technology, so much is acronym driven we would wear out the poor full stop in many things such as TCP/IP, DNS, CD-ROM, USB and so forth.


When did you last use ‘whom’? I drop it in sometimes to be pretentious but am not sure precisely when to use it (to whom, for whom, by whom I believe). Do we miss this? English has so little in the way of declension do we mind if this one has declined? I thing not.

Well that’s it, please feel free to comment and add your own pet hates!


About Tony Jones
Big Finish writer, reviewer and blogger, I'm interested in science fiction and Doctor Who. I review for CultBox, The Doctor Who Companion and others. I am also Lead Writer for Starburst Magazine, and write the occasional piece for Vortex, the BSFA critical magazine.

2 Responses to What are Words Worth?

  1. Pingback: Playing the Oak Trombone « Reality Checkpoint

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