By: Meredith Dietz
There’s a reason “thee, thou, and thy” aren’t your pronouns, or why you probably didn’t compliment anyone by telling them they were “the bee’s knees” at any point in the last century. The way we use words evolves, and if the common usage has shifted, then it’s time to adapt and evolve with it.
Yet self-appointed word police are persistently determined to let everyone know about their intellectual superiority. Often these word cops can tolerate new slang, like “hangry” or “selfie”; their sticking point seems to be changes to the rules governing words they already know. This is why you see people aggressively dictating “the right way” to use certain words and phrases. (Or finding “they/them” pronouns far too confusing for even their big brains. But I digress.)
Linguistic experts understand policing other people’s grammar is not a worthwhile endeavor. Again and again, Merriam-Webster has defended the fact that your word usage pet peeves (of which there are surely…myriad) are not based on immutable rules. Language historian Anne Curzan’s TED Talk—somewhat iconic among word nerds—argues that if a community of speakers is using a word and knows what it means, it’s a real word. Awful used to mean “worthy of awe.” “Fizzle” used to refer to quiet farting (a meaning I’d love to bring back around).
The meaning of words changes over time. Your resistance is futile. As such, the following words and phrases are evolving before our eyes—don’t get caught on the pretentious side of history. (Note: The following definitions are pulled from the Oxford Languages Google results.)
Noun: a countless or extremely great number.
Adjective: countless or extremely great in number.
We’ve previously articulated why it’s okay to say “a myriad of.” Opponents believe “myriad” is exclusively an adjective, and that “myriad of” is always incorrect. According to Merriam-Webster, that belief is what’s incorrect. Looks like there are a myriad of ways to outwit the word police.
Get with the times: “Irregardless” is a real word now.
Otherwise, you think you’re a higher authority than Merriam-Webster. The dictionary not only recognizes irregardless, but also respectfully defends its criteria for inclusion. See their argument, and take heed for all the other words featured below:
“The fact that it is unnecessary, as there is already a word in English with the same meaning (regardless) is not terribly important; it is not a dictionary’s job to assess whether a word is necessary before defining it. The fact that the word is generally viewed as nonstandard, or as illustrative of poor education, is likewise not important; dictionaries define the breadth of the language, and not simply the elegant parts at the top.”
Adjective: using or characterized by irony; happening in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this.
Nailing down a single definition of irony is an exercise in futility; irony can mean different things depending on if it’s verbal, situational, dramatic, or somewhere in-between. Unless you’re in a strictly academic setting, “ironic” also often gets thrown around when someone means to use “sarcastic” or “coincidental.” Butchering the meaning of ironic is so ironic, right? No? You get the idea.
Noun (plural): a principle or standard by which something may be judged or decided.
Although “criterion” is officially the singular and “criteria” the plural, it’s probably unnecessary to correct someone’s use of “criteria is” versus “criteria are.” Unless you’re determined to meet the criteria for being a nerd.
Adjective: affected with nausea; inclined to vomit.
A popular argument for the grammar-obsessed is that “nauseous” describes something that creates a feeling of sickness, and that “nauseated” is the word you want to describe when you yourself feel sick. Personally, I’m too preoccupied with spelling this word correctly to care about your technical usage.
Adverb: in a literal manner or sense; (informal) used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true.
This is where I really open myself to attack. I will die on the hill that “literally” always has been and always will be used figuratively. Dictionary.com defends the modern application of “literally,” arguing that outcry over the correct usage of “literally” only gives the word more power as in intensifier. It’s literally so outdated to get worked up over “literally.”
I couldn’t care less about your use of “could care less.”
Honorable mentions: Momentarily, plethora, factoid, anxious, and clichéd.
True word nerds love to chart the evolution of language, and aren’t pedants obsessed with reinforcing the so-called rules. Because rules change. Get with the times.