The campaign against incompetent pedants

How old would you guess the much-criticised emphatic, figurative use of ‘literally’ is? And how old is the use of ‘infer’ where a stickler would insist on ‘imply’?

We’ll come back to that.

Jonathon Owen’s excellent blog post ‘12 Mistakes Nearly Everyone Who Writes About Grammar Mistakes Makes’ falls under two categories:

  • things that lots of people would benefit from reading
  • things that I wish I’d written.

But I can at least recommend it. And I can suggest another common mistake made by language peevers: the recency illusion.

It’s easy to assume that some supposed error is relatively new, maybe the fault of the 1960s or the internet. But this is just a special case of that lazy brand of cultural conservatism that equates bad with new. And it’s often wrong.

The emphatic, figurative use of ‘literally’ is about 250 years old, and the use of ‘infer’ where some would insist on ‘imply’ is nearly 500. In these cases and many others, the disparaged usage is much older than someone’s decision to start disparaging it.

Anyway, why are you still here? Go and read Jonathon’s post.

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