When does ‘wrong’ become ‘right’? | Metaglossia: The Translation World | Scoop.it

People can go a bit funny when I tell them I edit dictionaries for a living. They get nervous and hesitant, as if they’re expecting me to leap on them at any moment, mock their use of grammar, laugh cruelly at their mispronunciations, and pour scorn on their woefully limited vocabulary.

But nothing could be further from the truth. I’m certainly not a member of the grammar police. And neither are my fellow lexicographers. Of course, there are those of us who still shudder over an errant apostrophe, or a ‘less’ lurking where there should be a ‘fewer’. But, as a breed, we’re far less likely to get distressed over the stretching of the more obscure rules of grammar or the entry of slang and textspeak into everyday language than the average man on the street.

This may come as a surprise. Lots of people think that it’s our job to get irateabout misspellings and misuses, to be the fierce and fiery defenders of the English Language, smiting the transgressors of proper and acceptable usage. But that’s not actually what we’re here for.

As the compilers of dictionaries, our job is to record the language as we see it being used today. The mantra we tend to intone on this subject is that dictionaries are ‘descriptive rather than prescriptive’: we aim to describe what’s actually going on in English rather than prescribe how it should be used.

You see, language