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Resisting the lowest common denominator

The English language is constantly evolving – and not only because popular culture has a way of introducing new words to the lexicon (twerking, anyone?).

Sometimes the everyday use of a word that starts out with a fairly specific meaning changes over time, just as the English language has long adopted and adapted words from other languages.

If people just find the intended “proper” way of using a word not quite to their liking it’s not unusual to see the meaning tweaked (hopefully not twerked) by the populace.

Some refer to this variation in the practical use of a word or term from its originally intended use as “common usage”.

However I have worked with some writers who have leant on common usage as a crutch for sloppy usage.

I can understand how we might take a word or turn of phrase and modify its meaning, especially if we like it and want to use it more often.

I can also appreciate that using a word that has undergone some transformation might make a sentence or sentiment easier to understand.

However I don’t understand how, knowing the correct meaning of a word, you can carelessly or even wilfully misuse it and attempt to justify that misdemeanour by pointing out that many others also misuse that word in that manner.

That just perpetuates laziness and ultimately devalues words.

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