Thursday, January 29, 2009

Living Language Watch

John McWhorter, one of my favorite students of language (I admire him for other reasons as well), says:

Upon his first sight of St. Paul's Cathedral, James II registered his approval by designating it amusing, awful, and artificial: All of these words were compliments in his day.

I did not know that. I guess I could see it: awful from awe-full, and artificial from artifice; i.e., something made by humans being more of an unqualified good a few centuries ago. No guesses as to how amusing has since acquired a derogatory tone, though.

This is part of an argument about the evolving meaning of words, and why, therefore, he believes the effort to "reclaim" liberal is doomed. I claim this is all driven by his frustration at having long been tagged as a conservative.

Anyway, it's an interesting piece, even if I ain't buyin' his thesis, so I guess I should call it an amusing read.

[Aside to RL: John's also against finger-wagging over split infinitives, you'll be happy to hear.]

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