Posted by: Jack Henry | April 26, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Changing English Language

The Symitar editors receive a lot of comments and a few complaints about ever-changing English rules and about our own evolving JHA and Symitar standards. Some people get frustrated when the rules change. Some people think our editorial changes are too finicky. And on the other hand, many people think English rules are getting too lax. For example, few people use whom these days, and many people don’t know how to use apostrophes, or they think they’re completely unnecessary. Infinitives are being split willy-nilly. Untold sentences end in prepositions. Where will it end?

The answer is, it won’t. The English language, like all living languages around the world, is always evolving. We don’t speak like Shakespeare did in the 16th and 17th centuries. We don’t speak like Jane Austen did in the 19th century. In fact, we don’t even speak like our parents (you should be thankful I don’t speak like my dad, that cotton-pickin’, yellow-bellied sapsucker!).

I recently read some interesting articles on the changing English language (they are listed below, if you’re interested), and was intrigued by this statement: “…every time a child uses it, the language reproduces itself” (Erard). And every reproduction is a little different than the “original.” The article goes on to say that “…key factors in biological evolution—like natural selection and genetic drift—have parallels in how languages change over time.”

Words and phrases that are used more often by more people survive. Rules change according to how people actually use language. And sometimes rules and pronunciations change a little more randomly. “Every single speaker on Earth will have their own specific linguistic variants…This variation is sometimes driven by selection, but at other times, we like to choose our own options from the linguistic buffet available to us” (Erard).

Can we fight the changes? Absolutely. But we won’t always win. You may want to hear and see people using whom correctly, but if most people are not interested in correct usage, the actual usage will prevail and the rule will change. Remember Shakespeare, and consider again how much has changed since he was writing.

As editors, it is our job to know and enforce basic grammar rules and all of JHA’s standards and styles—even though they are always evolving. We also strive to produce documentation that is consistent no matter which employee wrote it. It’s a job we all love. We don’t always agree with changes that occur, but we’re busier than a one-legged cat in a sandbox trying to enforce them. And we do it all without pitchin’ a hissy fit (usually).


Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Extension: 765432

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