OK, what’s happened to American English?

dictionaryI try really hard not to be one of those “English major I know better than you” pedants about language, mostly because I was never an English major, but heck, some things have changed recently.  Or maybe I’m just noticing?

For a long time, I had chalked up as a Northwestern local-ism a weird affectation that I hear all the time.  That is, the complete removal of infinitives from sentences.  For example, “The car needs repaired.”  What the heck IS that?  The correct form of this is “The car needs to be repaired.”  Also correct would be “The car needs repair.”  I’m not sure where this thing came from, but I’m hearing it (and READING IT!!) from many more corners than the Northwest.  Not so regional after all, it would appear.  It only drives me mostly nuts, not completely.

Moving on.  Now then, why are we all suddenly turning British?  OK, OK, I’m fine with people letting “no worries” creep in to speech and writing.  Fine.  I even get “Cheers” as a good-bye.  But good grief, the loo (bathroom), a ginger (redhead), going on holiday (vacation)?  Bloody hell, mate!  The most annoying thing lately, to my ear anyway, is the trend toward the complete lack of proper reference to collective nouns.  What’s a collective noun, you ask?  Team, company, family, troop, army and so on – these are collective nouns.  They’re nouns that refer to the collection as one singular thing.  So proper American English is “The company IS introducing a new product.”  British English is “The company ARE introducing a new product.”  British English treats any collection as a non-collective group of individuals.  “Facebook are releasing a new feature”, or “The US Congress are facing low poll numbers”.  Fine.  That’s great and I fully expect to hear this sort of thing on the BBC.  But now, this lack of recognition of the collective noun is creeping in to – no, I’d even venture to say invading – American English, particularly on broadcast news, most specifically on NPR of all places.  It’s bonkers and I guess it gets my knickers in a twist a little bit.  Gobsmacked?  Really?

I won’t even comment, much, on the continuing trend toward LOL-ing the language.  Someday, I suppose that it will be perfectly acceptable for a job application to be full of SMS style abbreviations and codes.  For the time being anyway, I still expect to see in an applicant the ability to construct a clear and readable sentence at the very least.  But I realize that asking this of people today is, like, not, like fair, y’know?  I mean, OMG, WTF!?  Our language consists of over half a million words.  Gosh, you think you might try to use more than 30 of them?

OK, now I’m sounding like a dick.  I get it.

Really, language is a fascinating and ever evolving thing.  It always has been and it likely always will be.  Nobody speaks today as people spoke in the 1500’s, unless perhaps you’re visiting a Ren-Faire, I suppose.  The Oxford English Dictionary (those darned Brits again) regularly releases news of new words added to the OED, and really, why would we ever want language standing still in the first place?  How completely dull and boring it would be to spend your entire life using the exact same words the entire time.  Plus, how would we describe our ever accelerating technical and social world?  Do a Google search sometime for “new words [insert decade here]” and you might be surprised to find when very common words in use today came in to existence.  Biohazard – 1960’s.  Acronym – 1941.  Reboot – 1971. Hands-on – 1905. Clone – 1930.  Foodie – 1980.

Words and language are magic.  With them, Homer wrote The Odyssey.  With them, my 9-year-old niece texts to a friend “BFN CUL” and the meaning is understood.

It’s all good.