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Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 06:12 pm

Call the police

My recent column decrying the rise of the all-purpose preposition moved faithful reader John Garvey to share.

“I've been noticing, especially on radio, that the word ‘an’ is nearing extinction. People will refer to ‘a excellent example’ and ‘a overhead beam’. . . Meaning doesn't change, but the experience of listening does. I find the lack of

a graceful auditory transition there grating.

“Another recent tic that bothers me is the use of ‘So’ to begin sentences, as when an interviewer will say, ‘Why did you begin to study whales?’ and the response is, ‘So, I was in the Antarctic and. . .’

“I can think of a longer list but will stop to save your sanity and mine.”

Our irritation masks a deeper worry about the state of the language, which is shared by David Cary Johnston over at The National Memo. He writes about the shrinking numbers of publications that employ copy editors, or “word police” as he calls them.

American newspapers employed 32,470 editors of all kinds in 2000, Johnston tells us. By 2012 a third of them had been let go. Of the 21,760 editors remaining, another 6,100 editors will be cut by 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, leaving America with fewer than half the newspaper editors it benefited from at the turn of the millennium. Publishers seldom realize it, but language has a bottom line as well as publishing. As Johnston reminds us, “Unpoliced, languages deteriorate. Linguistic anarchy just makes for misunderstanding.”

Which is one of the points that Diane Coyle made this morning at The Enlightened Economist. Her pleasure in reading Anthony Pagden’s The Enlightenment and Why It Still Matters was marred by the number of typos in the book – “from the minor like missing commas to frequent substitutions like ‘palette’ for ‘palate’ and ‘Chaplin’ (as in Charles) for ‘chaplain’, as if dictated to word-recognition software. There are one or two per page.”

Pagden’s book is published by the Oxford University Press. We are doomed.

 

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