When I later mentioned to the person who compiled our school’s word of the day list that even though the terms deduce and infer are commonly (and often improperly) used interchangeably, they do have their own specific meanings and really don’t describe exactly the same thing. The response I expected from a colleague was, at the very least, a mild interest in getting it right. What she did instead was abruptly pull out a tattered copy of the nth edition of the Joe Whatsizname Thesaurus, and stated authoritatively, “According to this they’re synonyms”. Seeing where this exchange was going, I dropped the subject and moved on.
More recently, I happened across an article on language usage by the late Professor R. L. Trask in which he offers that the “correct form” of English is whatever form English-speakers are using, and states furthermore that “there is no higher court of appeal.”
Well, needless to say, as one who considered it blasphemy when they started putting the word ‘ain’t’ in the dictionary, I was aghast. Have we reached a point in cultural evolution where the intricacies of our admittedly complex language are to be trashed in the interest of simplification and expediency?
From a historical perspective, it’s easy to see how many of the compromises or dialects of a language came into being. Before television, radio, telephone, rapid forms of conveyance, or even the printing press, the concept of global communication did not exist. It was difficult to communicate effectively with the next village, much less beyond. But in today’s technological environment, one cannot blame one’s linguistic shortcomings on lack of good example. One has only to turn on the TV to hear the best (and worst) of the Queen’s English. That, combined with the guarantee of a free education for all, would create the expectation that we should now be at the very pinnacle of semantic art.
But in reality, our modern culture seems to be rushing toward a language in which our vocabulary is losing its nuance. Instead of striving to select just the right wording to impart the intended hypostasis to a phrase, now days it's: any old synonym will do. Is this a product of poor education? Just plain laziness? Can we do anything about it? Should we?