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Stay consistent as language develops

by: Garry Pierrepont (2 December 2011)

A lot of people get very precious about English grammar and spelling. I know Ė Iím one of them! There are spelling and grammar rules which must be followed, of course.

But, the fact is that English is continually developing and can never be cast in stone.

There are always new words being added to the language and the modern era is no different, adding as it does several new technology words each year.

An obvious example is: google (verb), meaning "to search for information about someone or something on the Internet." Thatís from the Concise OED definition of 2008; notice it doesn't even specify that to google should mean searching using Google!

Facebook as a verb is not in that version of the dictionary, but it is surely in the latest version as: "to communicate with someone by using the Facebook website" (http://www.macmillandictionary.com).

As proofreaders, we should always be on the lookout for new words coming into regular use.

However, that does not mean that we should accept errors that are repeated as evidence of a new word. An example I have referred to before in this blog is "alot", the mistaken use of "a lot". It's wrong and should be flagged as such.

Less clear is the use of words such as "well-being", which I have seen written as "wellbeing" or "well being". The OED says it should be well-being and I prefer that. However, I try not to get hung up on it. If a writer has written wellbeing throughout their document, I'd be happy to go with it, but if on two or three occasions out of twenty-odd they use well-being, I will change the latter to wellbeing on those three occasions.

Consistency remains the key as the language continues to develop.

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