Sunday, March 25, 2012

Language Changes

I have a problem. There are times when I really just can’t use proper grammar, because I cannot have someone say something people don’t say in real life. Or think it.

Here’s an example. Whom. No one says 'whom' anymore except English professors.

I’m a firm believer that a character needs to think and speak as she would in real life. Otherwise, she (or he) becomes unbelievable. The reader loses faith in their reality. The writer gives up that precious commodity – suspension of disbelief. The minute the wrong word comes out of your heroine’s mouth, a part of the story crumbles away, like the face of a glacier as it melts.

Unless I have a scholarly character that actually would say ‘whom’, I cannot and will not force the correct grammar on my fictional people.

My consolation is that language does, indeed, change. This was re-enforced as I worked my way through Jane Austen’s novel and found several archaic spellings for words we still use today, but spell differently. ‘Chuse’ is that one I noticed most often, which would be ‘choose’ today.

I was told by one of my grade-school teachers that the word ‘develop’ didn’t have an 'e' on the end, even though the old dictionary my parents had said it did. I brought it to school to prove it and she calmly explained that wasn’t the way it was spelled any more. It struck me then, at about ten years old, that words and how we use them could change at any time.

I watched fascinated as a youngster by words that would suddenly be included in the dictionary, like ‘A-okay’, which came into being with space exploration and was absolutely verboten in a class paper as slang until Webster’s included it as a bona fide word.

So, as ‘google’ becomes an accepted verb, I fully expect 'whom' to disappear all together, as it vanishes from our daily speech, along with many other words. I don’t mourn their passing at all, because I know we’ll add hundreds, even thousands, of others as time passes and long before I finish up as a writer.

Say hello to ‘skype’ for me!


  1. You're just plain fun, Kathy, and for sure authenticity rules the day as far as I'm concerned too. Language is our tool not our ruler.

  2. I agree with you on the whom thing. Really hard to use it without sounding pompous. Great post, as always (I always read them, but I really should comment more :) ).

  3. that happens in dialogue and people should take that into account.

  4. I am to this date still fascinated by the changing landscape of language. I used to proofread in university and an ad firm I knew would send me copy that said Grow Your Savings. I had great issue with that construction. Argued at length.