Monday, 28 November 2016

Confession of a prescriptivist in descriptivist's clothing

Word Watch

Funny how bees get attracted to bonnets. When I started writing for a living (not so much an author, more a glorified typist) I was warned against an arriviste word. As I started working for DEC (before HR started to insist on a full polysyllabic "Digital Equipment Corporation", which usually evoked a quizzical look, followed by the response "Oh, you mean DEC") in 1984, the word had just started its assault (to use the prescriptivist's word, although the descriptivist might defend its  appropriateness by noting its derivation from the Latin saltare [="jump"]) on the citadel of linguistic rectitude. Collins English Dictionary shows this sudden uptick:

This curve suggests (as I was told at the time) that in the early '80s some group of linguistic vandals (probably Those Damn Yanks [traditional Bogeymen of prescriptivist rants])...
<digression subject="traditional Bogeymen">
(as has been the regular slur since the early days of the Republic). It is the price the USA pays for being such a fertile source of the innovations that make English so rich.
...probably on an MBA course (contrasting management styles), started introducing the  "proactive/reactive" distinction. And this was  not a case of a word being resurrected after pre-Victorian popularity, as is sometimes the case with "new" words decried by old fogeys.

But the flatness of that ground-hugging frequency curve until the early '80s shouldn't be thought to imply that the word just didn't exist before then. Etymonline traces it back to 1921:

proactive (adj.) 
also pro-active, of persons or policies, as an opposition to reactive, 1921, from pro- + active. From 1933, in psychology (learning theory).
I don't think I'll ever use it, as active – in the right context – can usually do the same job. But my lip will curl less when others use it.


PS: And here are a few clues:
  • After uneven exchange with Romans (five against six hundred), Boudicca might camp in one. (7)
  • Just take the first amendment: "Here I am" – whingeing, I'll be bound. (8)
  • Might be cooked up for one of ducal rank/ego. (4,1,1,6) 
Update: 2016.12.08.23:15 – Added PPS

PPS: Oops – Fixed one of the clues; saying which would give the game away.

No comments:

Post a Comment