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Language evolution and nudity

Posted by Bob on November 08, 2002

In Reply to: Language evolution and nudity posted by TheFallen on November 08, 2002

: I got to thinking in an idle moment about how lanhguage evolves through error - I'm still trying to get over the shock of the greater popularity of "another thinG coming" as compared to "another thinK coming". The post below dealing with "off one's own back / bat" triggered this all off - I've often heard the (currently) incorrect "back" version used.

: Another expression that fits this pattern is buck/butt naked. Buck naked is the original and at least currently correct version, but butt naked is almost certainly more widely used these days. A Googlefight between the two expressions shows 1,030,000 hits for Butt and only 236,000 for Buck. Even allowing for the statistical skewing caused by the amount of illiterate pornography all over the www, this is still a significant result.

: One can see why the "error" - and is it even fair to call it such these days, I wonder - came about. Butt naked would superficially seem to make a lot more sense, and also there may seem to be racial overtones to buck naked, which may lead others to avoid it.

: I wonder just when an "error" evolves into correct usage.

Dictionaries, which are descriptive, not prescriptive, (usually) adhere to this rule: "correct:" = use* by a majority** of educated*** speakers.
*use = un-ironic use
**Majority does not mean "my circle of friends"
***The opinions of fools are not suffered gladly
I say usually, because that's where one separates the "permissive" dictionaries from those compiled by lexicographers with higher or more rigid standards.
Every new edition of a dictionary brings moans and gnashing of molars, from purists who "know" the unbreakable rules (i.e., what Mom said). But language, especially English, is in constant flux, and the tipping point when a vulgarism, or even an "error" becomes acceptable has to be defined somewhere.

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