Permanent Revolution of the English Language

Matthew ParrisThe English language is in a dreadful mess. It always has been and always will be. That is its great splendor. At least since the arrival on our shores of a ruling class who spoke a different tongue from the common poeople, glorious civil war within the language has been a permanent condition.

Indeed “civil war” exaggerates the tidiness of the conflict. “Permanent revolution” might better describe a creative chaos in which pronunciation is at war with spelling, suffixes and prefixes at war with the roots and stems which bear them, slang at war with formal speech, grammatical logic at war with common usage, and new meanings at war with old. There are hostilities in which teachers are pitted against their students, newspaper readers against their journalists, and columnists against the editors who hire them. The air is thick with the cries of wounded sensibilities and offended rectitude, and literary landscape peppered with the bullet-holes of misplaced apostrophes.

—Matthew Parris
Introduction to The King’s English

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