Steve (and Shann)--
There's no simple answer, as far as I'm concerned, to the question of how to deal with changing language. As you stated, there are some contexts where the absolute precise word is crucial; in other contexts we can afford to be looser in our acceptance of words or phrases that once meant one thing and now mean something else.
I guess, for me, it's just a matter of personal tolerance. I'm fully prepared to cede that although nauseous
really means 'causing illness,' most people use it as a synonym for nauseated
('feeling ill'). It just doesn't bother me. But I grind my teeth when I hear someone misuse notorious
Another thing that determines whether I decide to be a stickler is my own desire not to be thought of as a pedantic pain-in-the-patootie. Again, context is the key. Although Facebook posts and online chats are notorious in their usage errors (and spelling and grammar errors, too), I almost never correct them. I just don't want to be that person--even though when people know I'll be reading something, they'll frequently say, "Sorry, I'm a terrible [writer, speller, whatever]." That always makes me feel a little bit sad--as if my title is Editor for the Internet. And I'm not sure how I got that reputation; as I said, I don't make it a habit to correct people unless they ask for correction. So if my friend writes, in a casual setting, I'm anxious to go on that Alaskan cruise--it's going to be awesome
, I may think
'she means eager
,' but I sure as heck won't correct her.
If it's something I'm editing, it still depends on the context. In a character's dialog, I'll correct an error if the character should know better. In an academic piece, you betcha I'll be getting out the red pen.
Hope that answered your question--best I can do at this late hour. I'll re-visit what I've written here tomorrow, after I deliver the young hurricane to her now-rested parents, and catch up on some of the sleep I've missed these past few days...
swfdoc1 wrote:I thought of another thing related to this topic; and I’d love your thoughts, Jan, as an editor. Language evolves, and there is a tendency to let incorrect usage become acceptable. I think of an example you gave and an example I gave, plus others. Your wrong definition of enormity is now showing up as the 3rd, 4th, or 5th definition in some dictionaries. Some “authorities” are now giving up on “beg the question” and listing the wrong usage as a proper usage. Even more shocking is when the OED gives up. I have long marked (as a professor, editor, and supervising attorney) the use of “evidence” as a verb as incorrect. The verb is “evince.” But what can you do when the OED has an entry for evidence as a verb?
What is your approach as an editor when you encounter a writer using a formerly incorrect word/phrase/usage in his book that dictionaries and other authorities say are now OK? I understand that should any of us be writing under contract to a royalty-paying publisher, we are stuck with their style manuals. But in other contexts, what do you advise/what corrections do you make?