Language Wars Truce Accepted (with Conditions)
Green Bag 2D, Vol. 8, p. 281, 2005
10 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2011
Date Written: 2005
In this paper I accept, as a (former) linguist, a truce in the language wars, as offered by Bryan Garner, the editor of Black's Law Dictionary and several works on legal style. Garner positions himself between prescriptivists, who maintain a relatively absolutist view of language meant to promote "proper" usage, and descriptivists (mainly linguists), who posit that language is a matter of usage in the speech community and is therefore always changing. I argue that Garner, despite his claims, is really more of a linguist than he cares to admit, and that this is a good thing. All dictionaries should be entirely descriptive-based on sound empirical work into actual usage. At the same time, many people value some advice on what they consider proper usage. Garner and others who offer such advice perform a useful service, as long as the advice is grounded not in their own notions of propriety, but on research into the practices of the best writers.
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