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Word usage is part of everybody’s life. Whether it is through texting, letters, or face to face conversations, we use words. When we need help, we go to a dictionary but each dictionary is different. There are liberal and conservative dictionaries and each of them have the same words but different connotations. David Foster Wallace in Authority and American Usage tells us how our language is controlled by those we did not chose. The words we use have been decided for us and have become the authority for language today, creating a common denominator and making lives easier.
Our dictionaries are divided between “notoriously liberal and others notoriously conservative” (Wallace 389). This actually makes lives a little harder because there can be a division of connotations. Though in general, they will have very similar meanings. Wallace complains about how different the dictionaries are and that someone decided to have authority over words is not good. That authority has helped us because there is no division or defiance when it comes to definitions. It has helped create a common language that even foreigners can understand a little.
While it can cause problems, a singular place for American Usage has helped more. When someone needs to know a definition, there are not competing theories for what a word means and has been modernized. Many words from centuries ago have been processed out of the language and have been replaced with other words with the same meaning. This goes the same for slang. While not everyone uses slang, and each region has its own slang, there are common denominators for them that everyone could understand. So, while someone may not understand slang, it can be described using the authority someone had over words.
Social media has advanced language as well. “Social media is making it easier than ever to contribute to the evolution of language” (Oxford). The authority that creates our dictionaries does not create the words social media makes. People start using words like “selfie” and it begins to gain traction because many people begin to use it as well. They become popular enough that they integrate into everyday sentences. Even when a word is not dictionary official, the internet helps spread it all around the world. People who do not speak English will still know it if they are on social media regularly because it will be universal.
Wallace describes introductions in dictionaries, though “the average citizen who goes to The Dictionary just to see how to spell meringue” does not read it, which in them contain “Usage Wars” (Wallace 396). In these introductions, the authors of the dictionary will show that they are either conservative prescriptivists or liberal descriptivists which will change how the dictionary is written, whether it is definitions or the connotations.
Wallace describes Pop Prescriptivism as “old men grumbling about the vulgarity of modern mores” (Wallace 397). Dictionaries made by them are based on older English and are much more conservative. Their usage on words may be offensive as well, which Wallace used the dismissal of Standard Black English as an example. Slang is used more often and a prescriptivist said it went against classical grammar. They care more for preserving older English than having slang added into it.
Descriptivists on the other hand are said to be influencing US culture, which includes language. Modern schools are taught to write Descriptively because writing is seen to be for self-exploration and expression and not communication, usage, and grammar (Wallace 398). Descriptivism has influenced modern language a greater deal than prescriptivism which may have to do with more people being liberal than conservative.
With the future, social media and more will be contributing to many new words being added to the dictionary or just everyday language. Many words created by social media used regularly will never be added to a dictionary but it will stay within language itself. Slang will begin to change though, just as it has done in the past to present, and will be replaced indefinitely with other slang. Times change constantly and language has to keep up or it becomes old and dust begins to form over it. Sometimes words are dug up from the past and used again but rarely does that happen.
Authority and American Usage by David Foster Wallace explains how word usage and dictionaries are controlled. That control is beneficial to modern day though to create a common denominator for communication. There will always be complications such as with slang but it can easily be understood because of the common denominators in English. Language has developed and will continue to develop for the rest of time, creating larger languages and thicker dictionaries.
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