I have two new posts on language at Macmillan Dictionary Blog.
First, Linguistic botany looks at metaphors that draw parallels between language usage and gardening, beginning with Otto Jespersen’s famous comparison of English with a park “laid out seemingly without any definite plan”:
Jespersen was not the first to draw this analogy, and he won’t be the last, but it remains a fruitful comparison. We wander the park of language at will, speaking more or less like those around us. We can stick to the established paths, or we may forge new byways and see where they take us. But despite the great scope for variation in expression, we can take idiosyncrasy and experimentation only so far before communication begins to falter.
There is some discussion in the comments about why usage attracts such intense acrimony compared to gardening. Your thoughts on this would be welcome, in either location.
The title of my next post, Many right ways, is a reference to what Arnold Zwicky has called “One Right Way”, a prescriptivist principle used to object to language change and innovation. I find such a rigid approach
out of step with what language is and how people use it – it’s like trying to impose a uniform on public clothing habits. One of the great things about language is that it gives us so many options. We swim in expressive abundance, often being able to choose from several ways to say more or less the same thing. The luxury of alternatives allows us to deliver particular connotations or nuances with a given phrase, depending on our practical and pragmatic needs.
A familiar example of One Right Way is the etymological fallacy, which I discuss in the post. Gill Francis, in a comment, suggests another: what she calls the “word-class fallacy”, e.g., insisting that impact or contact is a noun only and shouldn’t be a verb. I think it’s a handy coinage.
Lots more in my Macmillan archive.