Readersforum's Blog

November 24, 2012

Etymological Evolution: 12 Words Altered By Historical Misuse

Filed under: Lists — Tags: , , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 8:40 am

By Joshua Chaplinsky

They say two wrongs don’t make a right, but what about countless wrongs piled one on top of another like corpses on the battlefield? Please don’t misconstrue– this isn’t some crackpot justification of genocide. We’re not talking the 2+2=5 of politics or religion, here. “How many lights do you see?” “I see four lights.” “No, there are five.” Nothing like that. What we’re talking about is the evolution of words over time– specifically due to their chronic misuse, mispronunciation, and misspelling. If enough people abuse a word long enough, the Dictionary Dictators have no choice but to begrudgingly accept. Like it or not, this is one of the ways the English language goes through changes. And it’s an important one. Without it, the know-it-all armchair etymologists of the internet would have nothing to complain about.

Who gets to decide when the wrong becomes right? According to Patricia T. O’Connor and Stewart Kellerman, authors of the highly informative Origins of the Specious, we all do:

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