I no longer need to be persuaded that descriptivism, not prescriptivism, is the way to go in linguistics—although I hasten to say that I will and do most certainly prescribe language choices for the only people for whom it is appropriate for me to do so: my kids. But the source of my prescriptions is a set of descriptions. I describe to my kids, “This is the way educated people talk, and when you’re in given situations (and I’ll let you know), you need to talk that way, too, if you want to show respect and communicate without distraction.” I don’t say, “That’s wrong,” as if there were some perfect standard of “good” English compared to which all other variations are “bad.”
So videos like the one below are preaching to the choir—and, often nowadays, the choir director. But good choir directors steal strategies from other ones, and this woman is an absolute master. Her illustrations are fantastic, her delivery is delightful, and I gotta check out her dictionary again. If fireman doesn’t work out for me, I wanna be a lexicographer when I grow up.
The major illustration I think I’ll steal is this: proper word choice is like proper hat choice. When and where to wear hats and when and where not to wear them, which hats to hear when and where—these are questions of manners more so than morals. Likewise with language. Don’t wear ain’t or whole nother in certain places. Don’t fail to wear them in others. Brilliant.
Without further ado…