Ok, so I admit, I’m a word snob. I don’t know how it happened really, but happened it did. Perhaps it was the years of learning foreign languages, discovering that the slightest error in spelling or structure could completely change the intended meaning of a sentence. Perhaps it was my mum (hi mum!) encouraging me as a little girl to read as many books as possible to improve my vocabulary, resulting in my paying particular attention to all the “big” words I didn’t recognise. It’s just as possible that my early days winning spelling bees in English class gave me an irrational sense of authority over my other illiterate 5 year old class mates. Whatever the reason, here I am today, a word snob.
But what is a word snob? I hear you ask. Well, I’m pretty much that really annoying person that can’t help but point out when it should be their not they’re, or your not you’re. I’m the one sing-songing “i before e, except after c!” and explaining the difference between than and then, too and to. On the occasion that I read over my own work and notice one of these errors I find I am disgusted with myself. How could you Katy? Go sit in the naughty corner and think about your actions. There really is no stopping my word snob ways.
Some people have told me to get a life, that “what does it matter as long as you get my meaning?” Well sir, I beg to differ! Our ancestors spent the time and energy transforming speech to text and I like to show some respect by at least getting it right. I find nothing more irritating when I’m reading than seeing a to where there should be a too. Yes, I get the meaning and know what it should be, but just by being there it has distracted me from the story. It has me wondering, “how much were they paying this editor? Surely in all the proofreads and edits somebody should have picked this up?!” And then I reproach myself for making such an assumption and move on to; “well maybe it was a kazilion times worse before and the author doesn’t really know her to‘s from her too‘s and in actual fact the editor has done a brilliant job making it as good as it is.” Whatever the case may be, when I’m thinking about this sort of stuff it means I’m not paying attention to actually reading and getting lost in my book…and that makes Katy a sad girl.
So, to avoid being the absolute nazi word snob that I have, on occasion, been known to be around my friends, I have found a means to vent my frustration amongst like-minded people. I’m currently studying a Diploma of Book Editing, Proofreading and Publishing, and I swear to God it’s like the Where’s Wally for word snobs such as myself. I get to use my trusty red pen, hunt down and assassinate those oversights and misprints like the trigger happy cowgirl that I am. And then I get congratulated and given a mark for how many I take out. Pow Pow!
In my most recent tutorial, however, I came across a discussion that turned into a bit of a dilemma for me. The rules were vague and I didn’t know what was right or wrong. Wordsmith ancestors! How could you let me down like this!? The matter in question was the use of further vs farther*, with the discussion question:
It has become common usage in Australia (and around the world) to use ‘further’ in place of ‘farther’. Do you think you should correct this usage in proofreading jobs for all texts? What do you think is appropriate?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that the change and evolution of language is inevitable and often necessary, but am also a great advocate for preserving language for the benefit of future generations. Just because a word is perhaps easier voiced, written or remembered than its original (the current trend in acronyms comes to mind: lol, omg) I don’t believe it should supersede it, as the origins of words can be lost this way and with them pieces of the history of language. In researching the origins of further and farther, I found that they are simply variants of the same word, later distinguished as having slightly different meanings, so if either were to ultimately replace the other, it would probably make little difference to the history or future of language. And yet, I am still inclined to differentiate between the two while a vague rule still exists. Is this irrational behaviour, I ask myself? Surely if the two are becoming more widely interchangeable then it wouldn’t really matter. But then again, isn’t that just laziness?
We have so many words for each of the colours in the rainbow; the colour blue can be aqua, midnight, turquoise, baby blue, kingfisher blue…each offering a variation of the same colour. Surely it’s the same for all words in language, with each slight variation offering a deeper understanding of the intended meaning within the text. I mean, we could just stick with blue after all, but how boring would that be? When I see words such as quite and quiet used interchangeably, despite their difference in meaning being greater than further/farther, I would not ignore the misspelling simply because it is common and their differences misunderstood or ignored. Surely if there is some confusion over the use of a word, the more practice people are given, the more they will understand the differences within their appropriate contexts. One thing I’m almost certain of is that negligence is not the answer to ignorance.
So when is it okay for language to evolve? For OMG to replace Oh my God? For further to vanquish farther? How long do we hold on to the doeth’s, the thou art’s of our ancestors? When does it become necessary to let the younger generations make language their own? And how important is it to preserve what we already have?
*farther is used for physical distance (How much farther?) and further for metaphorical, or figurative distance (I need to look further into this).