“Fervency Is Not a Word, Rand”

by Feb 16, 2012Linguistics, Personal2 comments

Do you ever feel a pang of regret when a certain memory flits across your mind? I won’t begin to share all my examples—I typically take them to the Lord alone. But here’s one. And don’t laugh.

Once upon a time, I was a counselor at the Wilds Christian Camp and Conference Center. And the humble servants there asked us teenage counselors at the end of the summer to feel free to write anonymous comments on a legal pad about anything we’d like to see change the next time around. I can’t remember what others wrote or whether I was supposed to look.

What I remember is that I chose that opportunity to remonstrate with one of the best speakers there about his word choice. I actually did have theological questions I could have taken the time to express, but I was more concerned to enforce the standards of English pedantry. I wrote the following,

“Fervency” is not a word, Rand!

The next summer I came back and he used it again, just like he had the previous summer. And then, unmistakably, he corrected himself and said “fervor.”

One 19-year-old in the room sat back satisfied. I had done my duty on behalf of all my fellow word mavens. One more person had, for his own good, submitted to our principles. Some day perhaps we would rid the English-speaking world of all incorrect speech and writing. The pigs flying overhead would salute us, and the Millennium would commence.

So I was once exactly the person I now so gently complain about: someone who simply didn’t get it. I had been told by someone I trusted (who sometimes reads this blog…) that “fervor” was a word and “fervency” was not. The bright light of reason, however, never dawned upon my mind. I never thought to ask, “How does he know?”

How can anyone know that what a clearly very competent English speaker says is, somehow, not English? I understood him perfectly. So did every maven in the room. Why can’t he say it? Why isn’t it a word?

Let me mark it down for the record: fervency is a word. An English word. A fine one anyone is allowed to use whenever they (!) want. As best I can tell, it was more than once in its history considered preferable to fervor. That it is not now (as best I can tell) may be due to overzealous teenagers who think they know The Truth About Words and aren’t afraid to try to cow their betters into complying.

I, hereby, absolve myself of guilt. I’m sorry. I was wrong. I say this with both fervency and fervor, because I can’t tell you how many times this little story has embarrassed me without anyone else knowing what thirteen-year-old memories were causing that look on my face. Now maybe those memories will leave me alone. The “Linguistics” category on this blog should be more than sufficient for my penance.


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  1. Jeremy Patterson

    Har! Now THAT is truly inexcusable prescriptivism. But your sincere self-absolvence (also a word!) and admirable penance certainly make up for it.

    By the way, where do I find your blog categories? I more or less understand linguistics, but sometimes technology gets me and I’m not seeing a list of categories like I do on some blogs.

  2. Mark L Ward Jr

    Check category list in sidebar (I just put it there).