The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about the birth and death of words. A group of physicists used mathematical formulas on texts available through the Internet to calculate how our lexicon is changing. This new form of study, “culturnomics,” uses math to track cultural phenomena.
I’ve always been amenable to the changes that flow through our language usage. After all, without them, we would be saying things like, “Thou shall not use your iPod at the dinner table, Jebediah.”
But I find my acceptance of them is pretty arbitrary. I don’t make my children say, “May I go outside?” I do correct them, however, when they say, “Jamie and me want to go outside,” or “I did good on my math test.” I don’t know what my standard is exactly, except some vague feeling that the latter two statements sound bad to me.
Most upsetting is the disappearance of adverbs. People don’t do things “really well.” Instead, they perform “real good.” Advice to writers often admonishes them against using adverbs and recommends stronger verbs. To me, though, “He cradled her lovingly in his arms” has much more impact than “He cradled her in his arms.”
I guess what it comes down to is that in culture, as in technology, there are early adopters and late adopters—and those of us who fall betwixt and between.