Use of the English Language

I realize that speakers of a language are free to use that language in any way that they wish in order to communicate with others, and that anything I happen to think or say about such usage will probably do very little to influence trends within usage.

Nevertheless, there are a number of uses of contemporary English that I find frustrating, so I am going to vent a bit on these.

Think or feel. I realize that interchange of “think” and “feel” goes back a very long way and is found within a number of distinguished authors of the English language. Despite this, I still think that it is a problem to confuse the two. People think thoughts, but feel feelings, and when one confuses the two—as in feeling thoughts—there is bound to be trouble. I cannot help but think (not feel) that confusion over the two has contributed to the lack of precision that many people have in conversation. I think it also has contributed to an unhealthy atmosphere in personal or public conversation. People’s feelings are much too quickly hurt over differences in thought or opinion. I think that this may well be related to the fact that people confuses their feelings with their thoughts and now they are not sure what they are either thinking or feeling, and how these relate to each other.

Signature. A signature used to be the use of one’s name at the bottom of a letter, validating and giving authority and endorsement to what was written. But signature is now used to describe just about anything to which one wishes to draw attention. We have “signature” menu items, “signature” products, and “signature” events. Not all of these can merit such endorsement. In fact, many if not most of them probably are simply the item that someone wishes to draw attention to. Let’s find a better word or wording to do this.

Iconic. If you thought use of “signature” is overdone, then you are probably, like me, struggling with “iconic.” I think that the word “iconic” used to refer to something that was, like an icon, representative of something else. Now iconic seems to mean anything that is outstanding or special or, well, just about anything that one wants to draw attention to.

Source as verb. We used to go to a source to get something, like our food. Now our food is “sourced” from various places. The grammaticalization from verb to noun is one that has been described linguistically, involving a process of metaphoricization. The movement from noun to verb, while certainly possible, in this instance at least strikes me as odd. Something may come from a source, but what does it mean to say that something is sourced from elsewhere? Does that mean that you got it there or that it came from there through some other means, or even on its own? I am unsure. I prefer to hear about the source, not that it was sourced.

Reference as verb. A reference is something to which someone refers or that refers to someone or something else. Why do we now often say we “reference” something, when we have always been able to say we “refer to” something? This is again a move from noun to verb, which moves against a more natural linguistic pattern, at least in English, from verb to noun.

Though for however. More and more people are using “though” not just as a concessive subordinate conjunction (“Though he knew my sister, …), but also as an explanatory subordinate conjunction equivalent to “however” (I did not realize, though, that…” or even worse, “Though, I did not realize that…”). I think that this often leads to confusion and is unnecessary when “however” is a perfectly good word.

Drop or release. Many publishers and music producers now use the words “release” or “drop” to speak of newly released items. Now “books release,” whereas they used to be released or published. This depersonalizes the process and makes it sound as if the books generated themselves. Albums now “drop,” whereas they too used to be “released” by real musicians and music publishing companies. I am not convinced that depersonalizing the process of producing books and music adds anything; instead, I think that it detracts.

I am sure that there are more uses of the language that annoy me (and perhaps you too), but that is enough for now. It’s not that I think better because I feel strongly about this. I feel better, now that I think about it.

— Stanley E. Porter

2 thoughts on “Use of the English Language

  1. Thanks for the clarification on “though” vs. “however.” I believe as recently as today I used the former incorrectly in writing. Another annoying use that has become common in the spoken English language is the use of the first or second person reflexive personal pronoun when the object pronoun will do.


    • Ron,

      Thanks for the comment and observation. I agree with you that the use of the reflexive pronoun when the object pronoun will do is annoying, as in “she wrote to Bill and myself,” when “she wrote to Bill and me” would do fine and actually sounds better and is more communicative. I have found that a handy rule of thumb is to use the object if it makes sense, rather than starting with the reflexive as the default choice.

      — Stan


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