It's OK to Let Words Evolve—Sometimes

Slate writer introduces ranking system for worried linguists
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2011 5:08 PM CDT
The Oxford English Dictionary.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – Quick, define "disinterested." If you said "impartial" rather than "uninterested," congratulate yourself on knowing the original meaning, albeit one that's eroding. Ben Yagoda at Slate tackles the age-old linguistic issue of knowing when it's OK to let words evolve—and when it's not. But he doesn't just carp about the problem, he provides an algorithm, or at least "a somewhat arbitrary metric," that ranks particular words.

Some results:

  • Disinterested: Stick with the original "impartial."
  • Fulsome: Ditch the original "offensively excessive" for the newer "abundant; full."
  • Nonplussed: Stick with the original "perplexed" instead of "unfazed; nonchalant."
  • Fortuitous: Ditch the original "accidental; unplanned" for the newer "lucky."
Click for more examples and to see where words rank.

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