Each week, Evan Peterson rounds up stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out.
Trends in language are constantly changing. New words and phrases come about all the time, with some anointed by dictionaries. This week, we look at how the English language began to evolve with its emigration to America, and we examine new ways of speaking and writing in contemporary terms.
So, is this just a fad?:
Here’s the lexical free market at work. Chances are if you listen to NPR, you frequently hear interviewees begin sentences with "so." Intern Johnny Nelson wrote on the This is NPR
blog about a reader who complained of the continued use of the word to begin sentences. Though the discussion here is about speaking, my guess is someone could easily have the same complaint some writers' leading off sentences with "so." A quick Google search of the word reveals at least one story—from Forbes
—in which this happens. It's also easy to find sentences that begin with "And" or "But." These are all clear violations of the rules we were taught in English class, but blogging and social media have turned some rules on their heads. So, is it OK to start a sentence this way?
[RELATED: Learn to write a great speech, no matter what time crunch you're in.] An open-source language:
Every year, the most trusted dictionaries in the English language publish lists of words they're adding. The criterion, in almost every case, is simply that the word is adopted by a large enough segment of the population.
As a story from The American Scholar
points out, this has always been the case. Ralph Keyes writes that when British colonists landed in the New World, they chose to use new terms to refer to certain objects, and often they just made up words to capture an idea or action—not all that different from today. This is why, despite the tendency of some to shudder at additions to the OED and other dictionaries each year, writers and other communicators should welcome the possibilities that come with a continually updated language. As Keyes writes:
"This openness has led to a lexical free market in which the demand for coined words to fill gaps in our vocabulary is met with a constant supply. Just as we have had to create words to discuss computers and other new technology, post-Revolutionary Americans needed neologisms to talk about their new political system." Tom Clancy's rules:
Tom Clancy died last week
at age 66. Unlike many great, departed writers, he didn't leave a celebrated list of writing dos and don'ts. Fortunately, Fast Company
pulled together a list of five of his best pieces of advice about writing and about life that he offered in speeches and lectures throughout the years. My favorite might be on how writing should be treated like golf:
“A lot of people think [when you write] something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired—it’s hard work.” Clancy advises writers, “Learn to write the same way you learn to play golf. You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right.” Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.