What objective SYNTAX facts make late 1800 writing different from 2020 writing? Why even highly educated, among themselves, in 2020 write much less formally than their counterparts in 19 century?


I want writing for ordinary laypeople, so I picked old Canada newspapers that don't use ten-dollar words for boondocks like Saskatchewan. I never study linguistics or literature. But how I can straight away realize syntax's not from 2020? Syntax's much formal, highbrow! But why? What SYNTAX facts are my brain picking up that I can't put in word?

Sentence length isn't reason. Sentences in 2020 can be long, but I can just feel instinct they differ from these late 1800 sentences.

Aurora Daily Express - Aug 9, 1898

enter image description here

1888 Nov 14 edn. of Daily Colonist

enter image description here

jsw29 explained why this doesn't duplicate this. Thanks jsw29!!!

The answers there "redescribe the phenomenon that the OP wants explained, but they do not explain it. The OP probably knows that, for example, we now perceive 'it affords us great pleasure' as 'highly affected and obsolete'; she wants to know WHY we so perceive it."

This explanation of what makes our evidence about 19th century English skewed is highly convincing, but it accounts for only a part of the phenomenon that the OP is asking about. It does not explain why EVEN the highly educated, among themselves, speak nowadays much less formally than their counterparts in the 19th century.

  • Is this a question about newspapers? Because if you look at other writing (eg US Civil War letters) you’ll get a very different picture.
    – Laurel
    Apr 11, 2020 at 15:08
  • 2
    If you're looking for a linguistic discussion, maybe post in Linguistics?
    – Barmar
    Apr 11, 2020 at 22:28
  • @barmar but they dont allow questions on just english?
    – user50720
    May 9, 2020 at 5:34
  • 1
    Why do you assume it is the syntax you're reacting to? Why not the word choice? That's the most likely change, along with the contexts. May 12, 2020 at 18:12
  • 1
    You're not looking for unpopular words. You'd have to prove they were unpopular anyway, which is hard. It is the choice of words in general that marks an era. Make a list of all the words in the texts, and their frequency. Then do the same for modern texts. You'll see a lot of differences. But you'll have to do comparisons. May 13, 2020 at 3:59

1 Answer 1


With the advancement in Technology, comes new words and phrases, as is the case with the advent of the Portmanteau, from Linguistics, which helps to provide support towards the provided claim. I recall hearing a phrase years ago, which seems appropriate to site here, although I would be paraphrasing. It goes as such, “there is not a word, phrase, or expression, which hasn’t been said before.”

As a result, I surmise that as a result of the aforementioned quotation, together with the idea that the portmanteau allowed Language to be made easier, by bringing two words together for reasons of simplification or to allow better context to a term, such as by combining the words "fog" & "smoke" to create the portmanteau of "smog".

Additionally, for greater context, words from prior generations, go out of favor, replaced with slang terminology. For example, word selection from perhaps the 1950s or earlier, like "ne'er-do-well", which is an ostensible combination of the words, never-do-well. However over time, the definition has become to mean, "an idle, or worthless person".

In reference to today's terminology, rather than use a dated or archaic word, We (in the collective sense) have chosen to simplify words, like ne'er-do-well to now, "say what we mean, and mean what we say". The result would be to use a word contained in the definition, to describe something, saying that someone is "worthless", so as to be direct and to the point. It is then fair to state that as generations pass, language simplifies in order to be more concise and to the point.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.