6.25.2008

a manifesto and call for submissions

language is constantly changing. this truism has always been the foundation of this blog, but i wonder whether i've ever really written about it directly. language changes. i can't begin to think of a counter argument. who believes that it doesn't? even the most stalwart grammar nazis must admit, grudgingly, that language does change.

language changes according to some predictable patterns, some semantic, some syntactic, some phonetic. but it also changes according to the whims of inventing users, which are unpredictable to the same extent that human life and action is unpredictable.

sometimes the way language changes even changes. new technologies emerge that make new transformations possible, like typographic change. what it means for language to change changes. rules and norms can also change, allowing whole ranges of invented usages to emerge or gain legitimacy.

an invented usage is the leading edge that exposes a change in language. very rarely does any of them make a splash on its own, but they often indicate a certain change or even a change in the way change happens that can have far-reaching social, psychological, political or technological roots and implications.

invented usages also have effects beyond their meaning, beyond their connotation or denotation. they make us uncomfortable. they make us laugh or take each other more seriously or less seriously. they make some people angry.

'why?' is a question i've meant to address for a while. why does change in language affect us? i've arrived, of course, at my own answer. because that's what bloggers do.

language surrounds us like the whole world. we are born into it, we work with it our entire lives, and we pass out of it. and no one person can have any measure of control over it. only a handful can string together a single sentence that lasts for a decade. even fewer can actually change the language itself for any amount of time. who has the power to create and destroy words, or alter their meanings forever?

and yet, language changes. no wonder people who strive to perfect language are so frustrated when a mob they don't know, don't like, don't respect, and consider uneducated, change it effortlessly and without a second thought.

meanings, and our ability to express them, are precious. in fact, they're the ground we stand on. invented usages are the joining of things we never thought were the same; they're the tearing apart of one thing we thought shouldn't ever be broken.

Invented Usage tries to celebrate, or at least tolerate those changes in all their mechanisms and forms. though we all use language differently, i find some comfort in the fact that invented usages come into being because we all change it in similar ways. change ultimately takes place because we continue to make the same mistakes and innovations as people we've never met, the way channels form because drops repeatedly take the same path down a slope.

on Invented Usage, a manifesto and a call for submissions aren't incompatible, because invented usages come from everywhere.

so send in your invented usages, right to inventedusage@gmail.com. send in an invented usage, and i'll post about it. send in posts, and i'll post them. all my favorite blogs (photoshopdisasters.com, thingsyoungerthanmccain.com, do it this way. maybe, with the power of the internet, we can all be in this together.

5 comments:

Chris said...

I agree with you comments. I've long assumed that the advent of writing systems had a lot to do with this false idea that language should be fixed and unchanging. I wonder what research there is on the language attitudes of people who speak languages without a writing system? I would predict that they have less worry about changes.

Chris said...

I should have mentioned that Zwicky and O'Conner's Snowclones may be a rich source for your invented usage list.

Cristi said...

thanks, chris, for the comments and the link to snowclones. it's a great site, and i'm frequently tempted to rifle through the database (as well as the eggcorn databse) for invented usages.

these things are definitely certain types of invented usage. but to justify my existence, though, i feel the need to point out that snowclones doesn't really deal at all with issues surrounding the usages like, why do certain phrases become snowclones? are there differences between recent additions and older snowclones? what effect does snowcloning have on the original phrase or term?

maybe i'll invented-usageize some snowclones soon to make the point....

Amandeep said...

"i've arrived, of course, at my own answer. because that's what bloggers do."

that made me laugh.

"language surrounds us like the whole world. we are born into it, we work with it our entire lives, and we pass out of it."
"who has the power to create and destroy words, or alter their meanings forever?"
"invented usages are the joining of things we never thought were the same; they're the tearing apart of one thing we thought shouldn't ever be broken."

these made me want to cry a little bit.

also, I only just noticed that this entire blog is written without capitalization of the first letters of sentences.

toomuchblog said...

This is a superb blog, and I've enjoyed reading it.

I do a lot of stuff with language (including non-prescriptivist-based stuff for kids, like http://hdym.londongt.org and the deliberately provocative www.killtheapostrophe.com)

Great stuff.

Related Posts with Thumbnails