Christine Lovatt

Many a puzzled puzzler has written in to query a word we have used: “When I was at school, we were told we should never use this word…”, the voice of their English teacher still ringing in their ears.

Well it seems that rules are made to be broken, and while we may rant and rave, nothing can stop the giant rollercoaster of the English language from mowing down all opposition in its path as it rolls inevitably forward.

While I may protest the use of ‘impact’ as a verb, I have no objections to using ‘contact’ as a verb and yet this was a huge offence during the 1920s and 30s. They considered ‘to make contact’ was perfectly adequate, whereas ‘to contact’ was an anathema. Protest as we might, if it catches on in general, it will eventually become official.

Who decides the rules of vocabulary and grammar? For the French language, it’s the Académie française, aka the French Academy, which acts as an official authority on the language. The term ‘hashtag’, which describes the symbol #, has been banned by the academy who insist that the word mot-diese must be used instead. Other banned words are email, blog, supermodel, takeaway, chewing gum, parking, weekend and low-cost airline. The influx of words from the English language are not welcomed by the Academy.

Most languages have a similar body to determine language rules. In the past, English grammar was based on Latin, with many adjustments since. Currently, when it comes to changes in the English language, it’s the speakers who decide. “Usage determines language change” is the mantra of authors, journalists, English professors – that is, usage by all of us.

Newspapers and authors reflect the vocabulary and style of current buzz words, jargon, technical terms etc. Lexicographers study the latest trends, from newspapers, public notices and popular novels and include in their dictionaries the words people need.

So, while teachers have to use the current grammar books or dictionaries, the grammar rules or the meanings of words may change by the time those students have grown up.

Happy Puzzling!