lost causes

lost causes
lost causes
Each generation has its own preoccupations about language, and the transitory nature of some of these tends to be overlooked. Some issues of current concern are listed at the entry for fetish; these include the split infinitive, the ending of a sentence with a preposition, use of the sentence adverb hopefully, and the use of from after different. None of these concerns has any firm basis in grammar or language structure; the split infinitive, for example, is a 19c superstition. In the 18c, Dr Johnson disliked words that he classified as ‘low words’ (he did not use the term ‘slang’) such as bogus, coax, joke, flog, prim, rogue, snob, and spree; all these are now accepted items of general vocabulary. Among Fowler's strictures that we may now regard as lost causes are: agenda (use agendum for the singular), belittle (= disparage, an undesirable alien), cachet (should be ‘expelled as an alien’), data (plural only), caption (in the sense ‘title or heading’: ‘rare and might well be rarer’), category (use class), clever (= well-read or studious, ‘much misused, especially in feminine conversation’), coastal and tidal (badly formed barbarisms), conservative (= moderate, cautious in estimating), distinctly (as in distinctly interesting), malnutrition (‘a word to be avoided’), negotiate (= tackle successfully, an ‘improper’ sense), and suchlike (= the like, ‘now usually left to the uneducated’). See also if and when. More recently, strictures on the use of decimate, echelon, instigate, and involve, on the pronunciation of multi-syllable words such as controversy and formidable, on the formation of words of mixed origin (such as television), and on the use of graffiti as a singular mass noun, have all joined the band of lost causes. To regard them in this way is a recognition of the force of language change, rather than a concession to declining standards. See also superstitions.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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