Saturday, 22 December 2012

Dr Johnson Speaks Out! Language Change II

No-one has yet submitted an entry here but I did say that Bryan A. Garner definitely qualified for a prize for posting on Twitter the next lines from Dr Johnson's Preface. I originally quoted:

"If the changes that we fear be thus irresistible, what remains but to acquiesce with silence, as in the other insurmountable distresses of humanity?"

After wisely conceding the inevitability of change, the great lexicographer (Dr J) continued:

"It remains that we retard what we cannot repel, that we palliate what we cannot cure."

So, in the end we can't stop the changes that we disapprove of but we can say what we feel we are losing, as well as what we are gaining. Perhaps also we should struggle, as Dr J demands, to retain the best of the old, while admitting any useful changes. Although we might not think it right to talk now of degeneration as the great man does, I find his call for effort and vigilance as moving and relevant as ever:

"Life may be lengthened by care, though death cannot be ultimately defeated: tongues, like governments, have a natural tendency to degeneration; we have long preserved our constitution: let us make some struggles for our language."

From the Preface to "A Dictionary of the English Language" (1755)

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