The devaluation of Language


Although I am not the Grammar Editor of Olderhood or anything else, I must address certain recent developments in the English language. I do it so that future generations of historians will know that not everyone in the world became illiterate soon after the start of the third millennium. You may, of course, ignore what I say, if looking foolish is your idea of a good time.

I’ll focus on three recent developments only, to represent the wholesale devaluation of the language now being undertaken by those without adequate education.

1. Literally

It has become fashionable to use the word ‘literally’ to mean ‘quite a bit’, ‘somewhat’, or ‘not literally’. You may think that’s fine. You might be happy to read a sportsman, for instance, say “When they scored, my head literally exploded”. You may even wish that to have happened.

One of our great dictionaries — I forget which one — has ruled that this modern, incorrect usage is perfectly fine because lots of people use it. That’s idiotic. Many people say “Me and him were literally killed”, but that doesn’t make them right, does it?

2. Gender

The word ‘gender’ is a linguistic term. It does not mean, and cannot stand in for, the word ‘sex’. No one is of ‘the male gender’. The term is used exclusively to define the gender (not the sex) of words in certain languages. In French, for instance, the gender of the word table (‘la table’) is feminine. Your girlfriend’s sex, however, is female.

Using ‘gender’ incorrectly will not mark you as an illiterate, since many respected experts have given in to popular pressure, not wanting to look old-fashioned. They are cowards.

3. Agreement

An almost equal number of the feeble-minded have concluded that it is now correct to say, for example, “A person should do what they can”. The argument put forward in defence of this most basic of errors is that the use of ‘he’ to mean men and women, which has stood for centuries, somehow belittles those of what proponents of ‘they’ would call the female gender.

What belittles women is the idea that they cannot grasp simple rules of language. If you’re a woman who is offended by the use of ‘mankind’, ‘manhole’ or ‘chairman’, it won’t help you if the rest of us have to bow to your insecurities. In fact, we will think less of you for taking offence at a usage that is so obviously not sexist.

Saying “women are idiots” is sexist. Saying “A person should decide what he or she wants” is not sexist.

* * *

Speaking solely now to future historians, let me say this: Not everyone in the 21st century was afraid to stand up for what is right, despite the risk of looking out of date. A few people — a tiny minority — had the courage necessary to stand against the infantilisation of the human race, the pressure of appearing trendy, and the unwonted abuse that comes with being right when everyone else is wrong.

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