This is true of quite a lot of words. Many words have multiple meanings and which meaning applies is signalled by context. "I run for exercise" and "I run this company" and "I will run for (political) office" are all distinct meanings of the word run. It is only confusing if context is not clearly signalled.
When I was considering taking up GMing a role playing game, my gaming buddies understood my interest in running (a gaming campaign). My father thought I meant pursuing vigorous exercise.
This kind of flexibility of language is normal and healthy. It allows for communicating many things with relatively few words, it allows for nuance, it allows for double entendre and for subtle communication that conveys one thing to one group but not necessarily another. This can be important for subterfuge, or simply for signalling information to a minority of people in public without completely derailing a discussion.
A lot of these I don't personally care too much about, but to see hoi polloi and nonplussed used in approximately the opposite of their original senses ... leaves me nonplussed.
"A lot of people use this word differently now, so just accept that and go along with it!"
Well, a lot of people also still use that word as it used to be, so why can't they just accept that and go along with it?
When people say "go along with it", they're just saying the new usage should be accepted as well, not completely supercede the older one.
You can argue that accepting both meanings may lead to dangerous miscommunication, so it's vital that one interpretation supersedes [sic] the other. Some people who are on board with that argument are also champions of new word interpretations.
Example regarding the word "factoid" right there: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9358604
"Nobody does that. [...] Only the other way around happens."
If a new meaning pops up for an old word, at what point does correcting someone's mistake become being a language nazi? When one person decides that a word now has a new meaning? One per cent of the population? Ten? I honestly don't know, but as long as it's not clear that the accepted meaning has really changed, I call "the other way around" plainly "correcting a mistake".
I'd rather not enable people who will stick to the first thing they have "learned" about a topic, no matter if it turns out to be mistaken.
There aren't really any set-in-stone rules about language, the "accepted meaning" of something depends entirely on who you ask. Personally I am more of a descriptivist than a prescriptivist, as long as I can understand what the person means I'm fine, I might even encourage "incorrect" usages if they are funny or somehow apt.
On another note, I like that you recalled and found a seemingly unimportant comment of yours from over two years ago that related to changing word usage.
About sic btw, it indicates that the spelling of a word is exactly the intended one. Even if that spelling is /not/ wrong (afaik). It was meant to gently draw attention to that spelling without giving offence.
When could using "less" instead of "fewer" cause danger?
No one is confused by hearing "less" vs "fewer"; but with "literally" it's a very different story. It's reasonable IMHO to protect clarity by objecting to uses that ... well, make a word useless by making it harder to parse which of two contradictory meanings was intended.
And that applies double if the word exists for precisely that kind of disambiguation!
- literally blue (painted blue or colored some other way)
- literally blue (skin blueish from lack of oxygen)
- he was really cold or something (exaggerated metaphor)
Or probably other stuff.
Like most things, you need more context to determine the relationship between the statement and reality. None of these meanings depend on the word "literally" it can disambiguate between two related statements but nothing in language can escape the idea of being used in a metaphorical context.
It always bugs me when people "correct" this totally fine use of language. We don't freak out nearly so much about similar words like actually, really, totally, completely, absolutely, etc being used in the same way.
It's no big deal. Metaphor is a core part of our language.
>It always bugs me when people "correct" this totally fine use of language. We don't freak out nearly so much about similar words like actually, really, totally, completely, absolutely, etc being used in the same way.
Because of a) insensitivity to those who have a hard time parsing tone, and b) none of those have a metasyntanctic function that specifically speaks to how the words should be interpreted.
By contrast, we do freak out when people misuse deliberately technical language e.g. 0400 hours to mean 4pm.
>It's no big deal. Metaphor is a core part of our language.
And being insensitive to the needs of those different from us is a core part of being human. But there are better and worse ways to be human, and better and worse ways to make metaphors.
This is a really good point, and I agree. There are many ways to use language "correctly" and still end up being unclear. I am in favor of clarity of meaning. Irony/metaphor plays with that but good communicators can use them to have more fun an enhance a message.
I really like your perspective though. I need to fold that in to how I think about this stuff.
Separately, I think they do have that meaning in most contexts. "actually died laughing" "really fell apart during interview" "totally lost control" "he was absolutely insane" etc
and that's a huge loss - those meanings, those concepts, are high level abstractions that capture critical aspects of human nature, and without them a people are less self aware and more easily manipulated
orwell foretold the loss of these words, though he envisioned it requiring force - the reality is far darker
He has a whole book about it: _ Words on the Move: Why English Won't - and Can't - Sit Still (Like, Literally)_. Check it out.
Not only do languages evolve and change over time (and that's not a symptom of everything moving towards some imagined mushy center), but some of those "changes" are illusory. For instance, a pretty large contingent of people on the Internet seem to believe that English lacks a gender-neutral pronoun, because a group of people in the 19th century made up a rule that "they" must be singular. Since that didn't happen in our lifetime, we assume it to be a core attribute of the language. But it's entirely artificial.
That's a little hyperbolic. Is there any example where a word changing meaning has left us unable to express something?
The meaning of old words change. New words are born. I think it's wonderful.
I imagine it rarely or never leaves us unable to express something at all, but it may leave us unable to express it so succinctly. There are, as far as I know, no exact synonyms for "disinterested", "meticulous" and "phenomenal" in the senses in which they were formerly used. We can still express each of those meanings in other ways, but we need a phrase rather than a single word.
This was answered upthread. Thanks!
The former, using old meaning, indicates that you aren't permitted, which is the negating the latter sentence that indicates a possibility of being there.
But "may not" in the old sense seems slightly weird, in the way that "permitted not" is weird.
I'd like to understand the prescriptivist grammar rule. (So I can apply it sometimes for people who might know about these rules.)
Under this rule, does any occurrence of "may" mean "permitted", and, therefore, a sentence like "it may rain tomorrow" is just entirely incorrect - has no meaning (other than that it is permitted to rain tomorrow)?
So that people following the rule never want editors to allow "it may rain"? (They always want "it might rain")?
Is a sentence like "I may have been a bit __(adjective)__" likewise nonsensical? (Meaning, possibly I was a bit (adjective).) Is this past usage also not allowed/nonsensical? What does "may have" mean under this rule, or is it forbidden?
So, I like the idea that "may" could carry that permissive meaning such that the strictest interpretation is as you suggest. But I don't like it pedantically in practice.
To be clear: "It may rain" isn't a problem because there's no confusion possible. I don't care about stretching words in that way. I just like the idea that the distinction is available for cases where it is meaningful.
If we lose the distinction between "Can I bike there?" and "May I bike there?" our communication suffers.
But "may" is beyond screwy today. Relatedly, although it's fundamentally wrong (not just prescriptively, but like my brain has a bad-syntax error feeling when hearing it), there are places in the U.S. where people say "might could"! See https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/3211/is-might-co... as on example discussion.
Personally, I'm a non-prescriptivist, non-pedantic, amateur linguist who like people actually thinking about words and using them thoughtfully and intentionally.
For example it's an easy way to say, "maaaaybe I was." (I may have been.) Whereas "I might have been" is about a conditional - it means something different than "maybe I was".
Come to think of it, our very word "maybe" isn't about permission - and it doesn't have the form "mightbe".
Still, it is useful to know what prescriptivists think, so thanks for the summary.