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

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.: “cyprus tree”* for “cypress tree”). Stage 2 (“widely shunned”): The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community but remains unacceptable in standard usage (e.g.: “hurdle” misused for “hurtle”). Stage 3 (“widespread but . . .”): The form becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage (e.g.: “octopu”* for “octopuses”). 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.: “present” for “now” or “currently”). Stage 5 (“fully accepted”): The form is universally accepted (not counting pseudo-snoot eccentrics) (e.g.: “media” as a mass noun). *Invariably inferior forms. ——————— Quotation of the Day: “A writer is likely to reach his creative best if the audience is sufficiently like him, so that he can speak in his own tone of voice, and at the same time sufficiently diverse to drive him to find his own special kind of originality.” C.P. Snow, “Which Side of the Atlantic?,” in Writing in America 78, 86-87 (John Fischer & Robert B. Silvers eds., 1960).
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