Until a few years ago, I had a very specific idea of what "loving the English language" meant. It meant that there was a holy "Good English" to which I ascribed, and though I loved to play with words, "can" and "may" were different, "who" and "whom" differentiated the knowledgeable from the chaff (though I've always had a hard time knowing when it was the right time to use it). People who used "Good English" were smart, and I wanted to be as smart as possible. Most people do.
A few years ago, I realized how incredibly, utterly, pointlessly stupid I was being by trying to be "smart". The tide changed; I became exhausted of people persnicking about apostrophes, jabbing about figuratively vs literally, etc etc. Maybe this was all particularly hurtful because I was forced to look at how horrible I was being when I was on the other side of the conversation. To try and feel smarter, it involved a lot of time putting other people down, through simple mistakes I could hardly deny I was above or beyond. As I grew and my tastes and interests changed, I became less interested in the Godlike Perfect English that didn't exist, but Mankind's Fluid English that was always changing, and that none of us has a real claim to. What importance is "can" or "may" when I know what a person means by the statement? Why are my parents' heavily accented English put to disregard when they had spent longer than my entire life in this country, but made the apparently selfish decision to not grow up with the language. In contrast, I spent all of my middle school years using the word "random" to mean anything from the typical definition to "a thing that is cool"?
I love English - Stamper does too, and it's nice to read a book that loves words from an expert background, and a background that says it's okay that words change, that you're not better OR WORSE for using "literally" in a figurative sense, especially when there are at least a dozen words that meant the opposite of what they meant at inception (and we also spent an entire year using "-ception" as a way of saying "a thing inside a thing" and everyone knew what we meant). And she does it in a way that exhibits her own love of language, playing with it in a frothy light way that highlights the random (literally [actually]) changing rules we use with it. I love love love it. It acknowledges our linguistic faults as not necessarily being faults, our dialects making us unique, and that language can be what we make it. Specifying a right way vs a wrong way to use a word often comes months or years after that word is already being used that way. Anyway, did you know that David Foster Wallace, general dick about using English the "right" way used "literally" in a figurative sense?
Lexicographers are merely the ones who watch us and try to help us navigate waters if we're unfamiliar with them. They're meticulous when they can be, broad when they're forced to be. If anything, it reminds us that we're all human, and that we're the ones who created English, and if to err is human, then... well... Lexicography doesn't come off as a rip-roaringly wild kind of profession, but its charm is the dedication everyone you bump into through the course of the books pours into their work. A month spend revising the word "take"? Christ. That is
dedication. It's sad then, that it has to end on such a bittersweet note: a reminder of the intense changes the internet and technology has brought to the world, and that information has become increasingly seen as free, for better or for worse, which results in lower profits.
But this book has brought a new delight and window to my life to the world of the English language, and a deep appreciation for the people who devote their lives to it. I love love loved it.