Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Language-Change Index.

The third edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage reflects several new practices. Invariably inferior forms, for example, are now marked with asterisks preceding the term or phrase, a marking common in linguistics. The most interesting new feature is the Language-Change Index. Its purpose is to measure how widely accepted various linguistic innovations have become. Such a measuring system for usage guides was first proposed by Louis G. Heller and James Macris in 1967. They noted that “usage specialists can make a clear-cut demarcation of phases in the evolutionary process relevant to the inception and development of alternative terms.” In these tips, the five stages are tagged as: Stage 1 (“rejected”): A new form emerges as an innovation (or a dialectal form persists) among a small minority of the language community, perhaps displacing a traditional usage (e.g.: “marshal” as a verb misspelled “marshall”). Stage 2 (“widely shunned”): The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community but remains unacceptable in standard usage (e.g.: “evoke” misused for “invoke”). Stage 3 (“widespread but . . .”): The form becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage (e.g.: “usage” misused for “use”). Stage 4 (“ubiquitous but . . .”): The form becomes virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots) (e.g.: “reason . . . is because”). Stage 5 (“fully accepted”): The form is universally accepted (not counting pseudo-snoot eccentrics) (e.g.: “early on” in the sense “at an early age”).

——————– Quotation of the Day: Lexicographers are perplexed daily by the problems that arise from our nation’s unceasing efforts to increase its vocabulary. Martin Tolchin, About New Words, in The Ways of Language 44, 44 (Raymond J. Pflug ed., 1967).

1 thought on “Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Language-Change Index.”

  1. Hi Bryan,My book How Happy Became Homosexual and other mysterious semantic shifts was recently published in Canada and will be available stateside shortly. As inplied by the title, its subject matter is the how & why words morph in meanung. I’m wondering if you;d like to see the book for possible review. BTW, you are cited in my book..
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    regards, Howard Richler


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    Hello Bryan,

    My book How Happy Became Homosexual and other Mysterious Semantic Shifts was recently published in Canada and will be available posthaste stateside. As implied by the title, the book deals with the how & why there is a maddening morphing of meanings. I was hoping you might like to see the book and possibly review it in one of your publications. BTW, you are cited in my closing chapter.
    best, Howard Richler

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