Please rein it in!

I used to be a news junkie - in fact, for most of my life I kept abreast of the latest developments. While we still had cable, I was a regular viewer of the news. Now, however, with rabbit ears and 2 channels from which to choose, I watch the news about once or twice a week in the evening, and other than that, I am dependent on family and friends to let me know when something important is happening.

Five days a week, though, I go to bed at 7:30 p.m. or so, and with the national news finishing at 7:00 p.m., the time of the broadcast is so close to sleep time that it can leave me with nightmares. Oh, there’s plenty to be upset about in the news - with the war, the economy, Chinese import quality, congressional stalemates, the mortgage crisis, politics in general, the increase in poverty, the conditions in Africa, etc. I don’t want to denigrate all those important topics, but I want to add a subsection to the news reports that manage to increase my blood pressure.

On Tuesday night, ABC aired a segment honoring National Dictionary Day. As a word/language/spelling/punctuation/grammar lover, I prepared myself for something pleasurable in the news for a change. What I got was anything but pleasurable. It seems that the Oxford University Press has decided that, due to usage parameters, they will accept alternate spellings to some words in their new edition. “Free reign,” for instance, is now an acceptable alternative to “free rein.” Why? Because 46% of the time, people use the former spelling. “Vocal chords” is now acceptable, when the only proper spelling used to be “vocal cords.” That’s because 49% of the time, people use the “h” in spelling the word. The third example was “shoe-in” as a new acceptable alternative to “shoo-in,” because 35% of the time, that incorrect spelling is used. So now proper usage is a popularity contest?!

Talk about something to give one nightmares!!! (OK, not everyone. Certainly 46%, 49%, and 35% of the people will have been ushered into the Correct Club using a fake ticket, but I don’t imagine they are too excited about the honor or that they even care.)

You can see I’m bitter. All these years, I have taken great pains (not panes) to learn and maintain correct spelling and usage. When I get depressed about how little I can do well, I can always salve my feelings by reassuring myself that I can spell correctly. Now what little self-esteem I had is being eroded.

What’s Ed’s reaction? He feels vindicated, of course. In an ongoing argument for over 30 years, we have staunchly remained in our respective camps regarding language. I'm pretty much a purist. He insists that language is an evolving entity. He says that when usage changes, what is acceptable will change. He says a dictionary’s purpose is to reflect what society is doing, not to publish some arbitrary set of rules. He dares me to look at Shakespeare’s English and say that is the same style we use today. All I could do in return was sputter my indignation. At a time when our precious words were being bastardized, I was ironically speechless.

Since then, I’ve done some Internet research. The site I can find where this issue is best discussed is this one. I’m trying hard to understand, but it looks to me as if we are turning down a perilous road (not rode). What’s next? Effect and affect interchangeable? With chat rooms pulling in millions of word-users, will “R U hapy now?” be the next dictionary entry? After all, if 40% of the people write like that, the dictionaries shouldn’t be too far behind in their acquiescence.

Sigh. By the way, if you are hearing something that makes your blood boil, a spouse laughing nonstop in the same room is not good. For you or him. Especially him.