Language changes all the time, most often in usage but also in spelling and grammatical form.

At what point does a widespread misspelling or incorrect grammatical usage become acceptable and correct?


There is wide disagreement as to what "acceptable" and "correct" mean. One measure is whether a definition or usage shows up in the OED. Up until recently, revisions in the OED were exceedingly slow and so lagged far behind popular usage. Toward the other end of the spectrum is the pure "ghits" approach, which figures that as soon as the number of Google hits reaches some number (or in the case of an alternate spelling for example, when the ghits reach parity with the earlier spelling) it would be considered acceptable. Some usages become "acceptable" in casual conversation quite quickly, but decades or centuries might pass before it attains "acceptability" in more formal contexts (say, a PhD dissertation). I believe that with the increase in global communication and technological advances, the pace of invention of new words and usages is accelerating. Thus the canons and the self-appointed arbiters of "acceptable" use need to change more quickly as well. There will always need to be a certain waiting period to see whether a new coinage "sticks" or is just a brief, fleeting fad. Again, what is an appropriate period is a matter of opinion.

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  • I can see how using Google hits would be a measure of how widely accepted it is, but with the OED, I would wonder how they decide whether or not to include it. – davecw Jan 11 '15 at 3:53
  • Also, does anyone know what numbers of hits are appropriate, or what waiting period is deemed required for these changes? – davecw Jan 11 '15 at 3:58
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    There is no simple answer. English doesn't have a standards authority. There are multiple recognized dialects plus variations plus localisms plus English-based jargon ... If a word is widely enough used that most reputable dictionaries have accepted it, that's as close as we come to it being official. Part of English's strength is that it adapts and adopts. "English doesn't borrow free other languages; it hits them over the head and goes through their pockets looking for loose syntax " – keshlam Jan 11 '15 at 5:28
  • Borrow _from _, not free. Darned autocorrect – keshlam Jan 11 '15 at 5:29
  • @davecw: About the OED: they have a committee of actual people who consider which words to include, based on various criteria, including frequency of usage in PRINTED works. I don' t know what weight, if any, they give to Google hits. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 11 '15 at 7:05

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