The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, November 05, 2010

Can you say ...?

I generally tend to keep out off the whole language change: good or bad debate. Over the years, I've got a bit bored of explaining to people the whole concept of being a descriptive rather than a prescriptive linguist. So I tend to avoid questions about "correct" usage and discussions about falling standards. And probably like most lexicographers, I feel a little bit irked that most people think we spend our whole time looking for new words, because what else would there be to do? This week though, a couple of language change issues have caught my attention.

Facebook grammar: Anyone who uses Facebook will have come across the issue of whether to write their status updates in the first or third person. Because your name comes up at the beginning of the line, you tend to carry on the sentence, which means using a third person verb, so: Julie Moore is looking forward to the weekend. But then because it's clearly you, the first person, writing, it would then feel odd to start using third person pronouns, so you tend to switch and end up with this funny mixture: Julie Moore is looking forward to seeing my parents at the weekend. Different people approach the issue in different ways, some going for the funny grammatical mix, others just ignoring the name at the beginning and starting a new sentence. Could be a PhD research topic in there - I'm sure someone, somewhere is already looking into it!

Facebook threw a spanner in the works this week though when they slightly changed the way the text appears on screen, so that now (on your home page at least, but not when you look at your profile!) your name now appears at the top, more like a heading, and your status update starts on a new line. To me this now lends itself to the whole sentence approach and so more conventional grammar. I wasn't sure what I thought about the change and when I posted a comment to that effect, wasn't entirely surprised to get a response from a friend saying they are actually quite liked the third/first person mix! We'll have to see how it develops, especially as 'comments' (replies to status updates) are still in the old format. "New" grammar for a new medium?

Insurgence: The other new usage also came to light via a friend's Facebook post - thanks to Michelle for this one. She pointed out that she'd come across several examples recently in the media of the word insurgence being used to talk about a sudden increase in something. So one from the Tate Gallery Facebook page referred to "the insurgence of digital photography" and another on the radio, "an insurgence of autumn winds". My first reaction was that they can't possibly be right because an insurgence is a revolt or rebellion. But then when I thought about it a bit more, we do talk about a resurgence of something, to refer to something increasing again after a period of quiet or unpopularity. I guess if you take off the re-, you could talk about a surge or an upsurge in something, but somehow they don't fit quite as well. I did a few corpus searches and indeed, this new usage does seem to be out there, I came across:

we saw a huge insurgence of "cool" gamers
There has been an insurgence of books which answer
What is going on with this sudden insurgence of Norwegian music ?
as a possible solution to the insurgence of drug-resistant bacteria

The last of these comes from an academic journal! So perhaps, after all, an insurgence of something does make sense? Is it filling a gap? I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

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