So, there I was, sat on a grammar high horse. Or something.

The evolution of language.

The evolution of language.

My university linguistics professor was always very clear about the fact that language is a living thing. It changes, it evolves. And this is all fine  – good, even – as long as it is achieving its primary aim: facilitating communication. Yet for those of us sometimes labelled grammar Nazis, watching this evolution unfold can be a mite uncomfortable.  It raises questions. When is it appropriate to be a pedant, for example, and when should one acquiesce and go with the evolutionary flow?

Language has ebbed and flowed for years but it seems to me that the wave of change has swelled over recent years.  New words, new phrases and new sentence constructions; they’re everywhere. No doubt the array of new(ish) media has a lot to do with this as it amplifies the public voice in a way not seen before. Want to be a writer? Blog. Want to be a video star? YouTube it. And so a web of beautiful, embarrassing, challenging language is woven.  True, some of these new linguistic devices are fairly transient, dying out almost as soon as they arrive – possibly due to frenetic over-use – but others appear to be sticking. What, I wonder, will be the fate of these current language chart-toppers:


1. That thing. That.

That thing where one starts a sentence with ‘that thing’ or ‘that moment’ and drops an emphatic, capitalised ‘That’ after the full stop. That.

This is in fact the grammar-tic that inspired this post. Not because I am against it, simply because the modern literature that is my Facebook feed appeared today to be somewhat over ‘thated’. The pattern was noticeable, and disappointingly dull for it.  I sense the novelty factor required to keep this one alive is on the wane.


2. That is all.

But it’s not all bad for ‘that’. It’s renaissance means it has more than one chance to win at lingo bingo. Have something insignificant, obvious or otherwise trivial to say? (Or rather, to write – for this one really is about the written word.) Don’t hold back, we live in an age of sharing. Conclude your thought with ‘that is all’ and voila, your trivia become triumphant. Or something.


3. Or something.

How’s that for a seamless transition? Or something. This one is still on the up I feel – or maybe I’m just saying that to justify my use of it in an email earlier today. The linguistic evolution of ‘on the other hand’, this simple little construction can be used to introduce polite dissent. So you know that thing I just said? Well it could be utter genius, or it could be complete tosh.


4. Stating a sentence with the conjunction ‘so’

Good grief I did it again, almost without thinking. Almost. Please refer to the second last sentence above. So, what do you reckon? Staring a sentence with ‘so’: good thing? Bad thing? Whatever your view, you might be interested to know that it’s not in fact a new thing. Apparently it appears in writing as far back as Chaucer and Shakespeare. Didn’t stop a flurry of articles on the revived practice recently. The Guardian got deep with a discussion around the ‘packaging of self’ while others claimed that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his Silicon Valley pals were behind the ‘so’ trend. (Not so, it turns out.) The BBC just got pouty and called for it to be banished in 2013. But according to an article on the Today programme’s Health section, it’s actually okay and can in fact help strengthen relationships. Phew.


5. Sat. In the present tense.

Using ‘sat’ in the present tense will, however, never be okay. Not to my mind, anyway. As much as I understand the need for evolution this is one, particularly British, habit that I refuse to give in to. One is not sat on a bus, one is seated on a bus. Or sitting on a bus. It pains me to see the more traditional custodians of language – authors, journalists, teachers – succumbing to this horrid, horrid custom. Stop it, please.


6. Declaring something ‘a thing’.

Hmm, how should I describe this? I know I’ll just refer to Urban Dictionary, that happy place where people like us get to write the dictionary. According to one entry, a thing is defined as:

 An action, fashion style, philosophy, musical genre, or other popularly recognised subsection of popular culture. Normally used in surprise at its existence. Becomes official when a wikipedia article is created for it.

If you want to know what the latest things are, you can even listen to podcasts on the It’s a thing blog. Butter in your coffee? It’s a thing, apparently.


So, what do you reckon, are these linguistic quirks here to stay?

2 Responses to “So, there I was, sat on a grammar high horse. Or something.

  • My worst comes from the world of cricket commentators, especially South Africans (what do they know about English?) but BBC and Sky Sports also seem to be getting in on the act. A fielder and a bowler yes, but a batter or heaven forbid 2 batters!? As in the person holding the bat. When I grew up you were a batsman (many batsmen) not the side slope of a deep excavation. But I guess this may have changed with the increased popularity of women’s cricket otherwise to be politically correct it would have to be a batsperson if not a batswoman/batswomen. Maybe somewhere along the line it became simpler just to adopt batter(s) as much as it pains me to hear.

  • “My worst comes from the world of cricket commentators…”

    This! Cricket commentators are the worst…

    I would call that a comment affirmation, but I’m not sure that’s even a thing.

    I would hope we could see the back of “That”, “That is all” and “Sat”. Starting a sentence with “So” suffers from over use, but it’s not horribly offensive. I would vote to keep “a thing”, though. It’s cute.

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