Date: Fri, 08 Dec 2000

Dear Mr Wonderful,

Why does language degrade over time? I mean, it seems that, given our increase in education (at least in the last couple millennia), increase in communications, and the help of the Professor and the Madman, we shouldn't have language degrade at all -- in fact, it should get better with time. And yet, slang abounds, and we get conversions from such words as 'victual' into 'vittle'. Why?


Telephone Game Player


Dear Nova Webster,

It's so sad when people on crack have access to keyboards.

Are you mad? Languages do not degrade. They evolve. There is no "right" grammar or pronunciation, there is only convention. There is what is pleasing to the ear of the moment, and then that moment passes and the ear attunes to new delights. Pish and tosh to your fascist linguistic stagnation, I say.

Languages merge and mingle. New people from fun and sexy cultures come around and give a bit of shake, of style. Tongues elide, glisten and commingle. There's no language in isolation, entire of itself, English least of all. If you prefer victuals to vittles, that's entirely up to you and it may get you a seat in Parliament, but there's no stopping the glorious tumble of play and demand, of restraint and slippage, of life, gorgeous life, that inhabits each and every word we utter in a vital language.

Drink deep, or taste not the fungible flow of the Muses.

Then again, people who call their aunts “ants” should be staked out in the desert and left to rot.