Language cranks, hail-fellow-well-met

I have two new posts at Macmillan Dictionary Blog.

First up, Why heed the language cranks? continues a recent theme:

People who are inclined to be intolerant of others find in language usage ample grist to their mill. Though English has a broad and accommodating variety of styles to suit a range of occasions and preferences, sticklers favour a very formal mode of the language – usually the version they were taught in school – and they advocate it in all contexts. This is as inappropriate, even as silly, as telling everyone to wear formal dress all the time.

I would happily ignore the usage cranks if they weren’t routinely given significant platforms from which to air their prejudicial misconceptions. This publicity helps them tap into widespread uncertainty about what grammar is and how language works.

You can read the rest here.

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Hail-phrase-well-met looks at a curious old phrase, hail fellow well met, to establish what exactly it means and where it might have come from:

Macmillan Dictionary, which hyphenates the phrase, says hail-fellow-well-met is an adjective that means ‘behaving in a very friendly way that is annoying or does not seem sincere’. So it packs quite a lot of nuance into a few familiar, if unpredictably arranged, words, usually indicating not so much a certain amount of social intimacy as an assumption or display of too much of it. It may be an extension of the shorter phrase hail-fellow (also Hail, fellow!, etc.), which the OED notes was both a greeting and a descriptive expression used in a range of constructions. The second part, Well met, was also a greeting: roughly ‘it’s good that we’ve met’, according to World Wide Words.

Sometimes, too, the phrase carries no negative connotations. For examples and further discussion, pop over to Macmillan Dictionary Blog.

For older articles you can browse the archive.

2 Responses to Language cranks, hail-fellow-well-met

  1. David Morris says:

    Re language cranks: One of the language bloggers I read (I can’t remember who) suggested that now we are officially banned from and socially disapproved for judging people on sex, race, education etc, judging on language is about the only thing left, and many people don’t realise that use of language very often if not always overlaps with sex, race, education etc anyway.
    Re ‘hail fellow well met’: the two or three times I’ve encountered the phrase, I’ve assumed it was positive. In fact, dictionary.com (which I’ve just checked) defines it positively: ‘(n) a spiritedly sociable person; jolly companion; (adj) sociable; heartily genial’.

    • Stan says:

      It’s true: language allows people to publicly judge others with relative impunity. No wonder it’s so popular.
      The fact that “hail fellow well met” sounds like a positive description may be partly why it came to be used this way. But I’m just speculating.

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