The Scandalous History of Proper English

Thursday, August 28, 2014

English dictionary The English language has evolved over time. (Copyright: Feng Yu/Shutterstock)

We are re-airing this interview which originally aired on June 30, 2014. 

English is a glorious mess of a language, cobbled together from a wide variety of sources and syntaxes, and changing over time with popular usage. Many of the words and usages we embrace as standard and correct today were at first considered slang, impolite, or just plain wrong. Ammon Shea looks at language “mistakes” and how they came to be accepted as correct—or not. His book Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation chronicles the long history of language mistakes.


Ammon Shea

Comments [11]

aristata from kendrick, idaho

I cringe when I hear an NPR news anchor referring to "this point in time" instead of simply saying "now".

Aug. 29 2014 02:02 PM
paul kollmar from nyc

..anything to make a buck?! ((heh))-ONCE AGAIN you force this writer to pull rank!=MY GREAT AUNT SADIE BACHNER was the chairman of the English depts. in the ENTIRE NYC.. school system from pre= depression era thru the mid 1950's>( that inner circle of yiddisha mamas including Herman Wouk's mom and a host of protégés==**most noticeably ALLAN OTTEN's mom,and her nephew who launched William Safire's career kiddos!!! Paul Gigot arrived lace-curtain but built a terrific career as well >))..The rug got pulled out of lexicography, and our entire grammatical rationale when WINSTON CIGARETTES began **LIKE** instead of ***as****- ^.. never -never on radio( or correct me if I'm wrong)== NOW the power of jingles to this very day is the true barometer.//- regrets only?///? The nominative and the subjective case is that grammar rule #1 to get you to pass exam #1---{I've blogged here before about William Gass((reigning purple prose)) and even James Joyce never pulled out anyone's rug--ex.> #1-To end a phrase with:..... to sponge off infinitive( if you're into romance languages)--or who the hell got authority to chose the word *gerund*?? its worse than schwaa}} not even vestigial....?==paul k

Aug. 28 2014 08:42 PM

"On the ground" has proliferated. but seldom adds meaning. What is the difference between "the situation" and "the situation on the ground"?

Aug. 28 2014 01:32 PM
Gary from New York, NY

About 5 years ago, many people suddenly started saying "So" as their first word as they answered questions. This habit has persisted to this day. It's so annoying!

Aug. 28 2014 01:26 PM

Using a word to mean one thing and its opposite should be sanctioned.

and if you spell LOL backwards it means "that's not funny". LOL

Aug. 28 2014 01:24 PM
Maggie from Nj

As an English as a second language teacher, I've been searching for a way to guide my students in choosing "in or "un" as a prefix to form the negative of an adjective, e.g., we have unhappy but incompetent. Any thoughts?

Aug. 28 2014 01:24 PM

How about: If you will...

Drives me crazy. Doesn't seem to add to the person's meaning.

Aug. 28 2014 01:23 PM
What about the crazy use of the word "random"?

Aug. 28 2014 01:19 PM

What about the crazy use of the word "random"?

Aug. 28 2014 01:18 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Too bad the producer hasn't noticed that the guest often speaks in a sotto voce style that isn't being picked up by the mic. We're missing a good 25% of what he's saying, even with the volume jacked. Perhaps you can remedy that in post, if this isn't pre-recorded.

Aug. 28 2014 01:17 PM
Joe Mirsky from Pompton Lakes, NJ

In researching articles for the The Way We Were section of my book, Ornamentally Incorrect, I noticed a change in spelling starting in the 1910’s. I wrote the following article about it.

Language Isn’t Fixt
You rarely see discust that the evolution of English hasn’t stopt. Altho it may look here as if some letters have been dropt and another affixt, everything has been spelt correctly. Surprized? This was the way we wrote from the 1910’s into the 1930’s.

Copyright © 2014 Joseph Mirsky

Aug. 28 2014 11:36 AM

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