Since Jonathan Swift’s 1712 Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue, two centuries of self-appointed correctors and improvers of English usage - such as Robert Lowth, HW Fowler, George Orwell, Kingsley Amis, Simon Heffer, Lynne Truss, and Neville Gwynne - have decried the decadent state of our language and instructed people on how to use it better. But what have they accomplished?

自从1712年Jonathan Swift的“厘革,刷新和确定英语白话”创议以后,那些自封的英语用法厘事主者们和刷新者们,像是Robert Lowth, HW Fowler, George Orwell, Kingsley Amis, Simon Heffer, Lynne Truss, 和Neville Gwynne,两个世纪今后,他们拷打吾们谈话里的低沉表达,并指导人们奈何更益地运用讲话。不外他们都做成了极少什么?

They have helped enforce agreement that there should be a standard version of the language. They have not, however, managed to set the exact details of that standard. They have not even agreed whether long words or short ones are better. And the stream of the language has flowed on despite the damning practices prescribed by grammar doctors in the 1700s and 1800s that often look old-fashioned or bizarre now : no one writes snatcht, checkt, or snapt : no one uses colons as I am doing in this sentence.

他们津贴吾们巩固了在“措辞应该有一个尺度的版本”上的承认。但是,他们写下更众盖于这个尺度的额表细节。他们以致来在长独词更益照旧短单词更益这个标题上给出谜底。并且发言的溪流在流行的韶华已经歧视了那些措辞学者在十七世纪和十八世纪里礼貌的恳求,眼前这些恳求频繁望起逾期年夜略奥密:来人会写snatcht, checkt,除夜概snapt这样的独词:人会像吾这句话里如许操纵冒号。

The language cannot be fixed in place, and its constant evolution does not always follow the tastes of its self-appointed guardians. Some of their proposed improvements have had inglorious careers: a rule - don’t split infinitives, don’t end sentences with prepositions, don’t start sentences with conjunctions - is decided in defiance of established usage. It is promulgated in books, taught in schools, and often used as an indicator of a writer’s level of education, yet it continues to be broken - productively by some (including many of the best writers), sloppily by others, guiltily by many.


One important effect the English-improvers have had, however, is on how people feel and talk about English usage. They have taught generations of English speakers that ‘bad English’ is a failure of intellectual and moral fibre. Consider the adjectives they have used to condemn choices of words they disagreed with.


Jonathan Swift, in 1712, talked of “Corruptions,” “Licentiousness,” and “barren” usages; Robert Lowth, in 1799, applied terms such as “perverted” and “barbarous”; Richard Grant White, in 1872, used phrases such as “utterly abominable”, “foolish and intolerable”, and said they showed “utter want of education and a low grade of intelligence” (and these against words such as donate, jeopardise, and preventative). HW Fowler in 1908 spoke of “barbaric” usages, and the “special ugliness” that comes from a word with a “mongrel origin”, and counselled readers that “The effect of using quotation marks with slang is merely to convert a mental into a moral weakness.” George Orwell in 1946 inveighed against “slovenliness” and “sheer incompetence.”

1712年,Jonathan Swift商洽了“Corruptions," “Licentiousness,” 和“barren” 的用法;1799年,Robert Lowth提出了一些像是 “perverted” 和 “barbarous”的言语;1872年,Richard Grant White利用“utterly abominable”, “foolish and intolerable”这样的短语,并称这些词出了“修养和矮智力级另外无前提需要”(并且它们背离了像是donate, jeopardise, 和preventative这些词)。HW Fowler在1908年谈及“barbaric”的用法,这“特另皮相寝之物”来自于一个“杂栽来源”的单词,并且奉劝读者们“给俚语运用引号的效用仅仅可是把魂魄没落调走制品格衰弱。”George Orwell在1946年凶狠鞭笞“slovenliness” 和“sheer incompetence.”

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