Tag Archives: Living Language

It’s Alive!

Believe it or not, I like new developments in English. That might come as a surprise to those who enjoy my Grammar posts, but it’s true. I post about grammar because I believe (and your feedback supports this belief) that many people want to know the “right” way of doing things and I was blessed with an education that taught me a lot about that.

But just for a change, here are some of the wonderful “wrong” bits of English that pepper our lives, and that I love just as much as their anatomically correct siblings.


The blessing, God be with you has been morphed by centuries of use until the original words are as forgotten as the meaning. In a hugely secular society, it’s probably safer that way and goodbye now has a host of meanings and connotations which make it a valuable part of our lives. There are many other examples of this too – which should make us more welcoming to the newest ones, like “imma” for “I’m going to”.

Ey up, mi duck?

Local dialects have been dying out ever since the invention of the horse and cart, but they remain in the details and add to the richness of our culture. Just look at the different terms of endearment used across Britain (mi duck, my lover, darlin’, chuck…).

My friends and I enjoy trying out different dialects for fun – we mean nothing by it, and certainly don’t want to offend anyone. On a boating holiday in Yorkshire, one of them once bumped into a local who asked how the previous lock had been. “Eee, it were right grand,” said my friend, before realising his mistake and quickly ducking into the boat out of sight!

Woof to the Fictioneers

Like any group of people who spend long enough in close quarters, my friends have also developed our own subset of slang. And a load of the boys in our group went to a British public school together, so they came with a ready-made language too. And then there are in-jokes and made-up words like Fictioneers or InMonsters. If you use these words out of context, people might look at you strangely, and like talking in your own language in front of foreign guests, there are plenty of times when it’s inappropriate, but shared language binds us.


There’s a place for shorthand when you’re typing, and for showing those things that could be seen or heard in ordinary conversation but are missed in the written word. Until someone invents a sarcasm font and a few for other tones of voice too, the smiley will also remain a useful part of our written repertoire.

And TTFN is really no different from Goodbye.


What’s your favourite piece of “wrong” English?


Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing

I’m Literally In Two Minds

If you’re a regular on the Thursday grammar posts, you’ll know I’m mostly a traditionalist when it comes to language. I like my spellings accurate, my punctuation punctual and my idiom straight down the line.

But I’m also a realist. I love language precisely because it’s alive and expressive and personal. I love puns, and double meanings, and I’m proud that among different groups of friends, I have different languages which are unique to those friends. (Although it does get confusing; sometimes I have to check whether a word I’m using is universal before I write it in a story!). Chaucer, Shakespeare, JK Rowling… they have all added words to the lexicon of their times, and we are all the richer for it.

Moving to Canada has livened up the situation no end. I’m now bilingual and I’m raising my son the same way. At our post-natal group, I talk about strollers, diapers and so on; to his grandparents, it’s nappies and puchchairs. At work, I offered tomAYto ketchup and wAH-DUH, but at home, I make tomARRto pasta by boiling wOR-TER. (That’s pAstA; at work it would be pAHstER). You get the picture.

So I’m far from up in arms about the OED’s inclusion of the metaphorical meaning of Literally. I do find it uncomfortable when I hear the word used that way, but I’m not outraged. Some of my friends literally went nuts when they found out, pointing out that using a word to mean its exact opposite is, well, an outrage. And putting it in the dictionary ratifies that usage, doesn’t it? And it’s confusing, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no. If you are reading a book, and you come across a word you don’t know. You look it up in the dictionary. That’s not really ratifying, it’s just accepting the truth. Sometimes, when you read a book (or magazine article, or quote etc) it’s going to include the word literally with its metaphorical meaning.

And when you do look it up, you’re probably faced with multiple meanings only one or two of which will make sense. So you’re going to have to use a bit of common sense anyway. It’s unlikely to be confusing. You’re unlikely to read the phrase “I literally died when he told me,” and not be sure which meaning to go with.

So what’s the real problem? Well, possibly the problem is that those people who really do mean literally are now going to struggle to make themselves understood. But I don’t think so. How often do we use literally the “proper” way in a place where it’s imperative that the other person knows we mean it, and it won’t be clear from context?

I think the real problem is what the real problem usually is. Change. Oh no, my friends, we do NOT like change.

Some footnotes (I love footnotes!)

1. The OED’s response to the controversy is worth reading.

2. Change (the noun) has 10 meanings in Chambers (generally the writer’s dictionary of choice). #3 is “a variation, especially a welcome one,”. Kind of goes against the rest of that sentence, doesn’t it? 😉

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Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing