ifeellikeThere is nothing quite so traditional as the elders of a community complaining about the way young people speak. It’s the hobby of the aged, dating back probably to the dawn of language. No doubt there were silverbacked proto-humans grumbling about how the young proto-humans didn’t grunt the way they were supposed and how the language was deteriorating.

It’s such a tired critique. A cursory understanding of how language words would teach these pundits that language doesn’t – more-or-less can’t – deteriorate. It can change, yes, and evolve, but it’s always forward, never backwards.

A few generations ago, it was quite common to say “The house is building.” meaning that “The house is being built.” Today, we would find that construction hard to decipher and erroneous. Heck, English used to have gendered nouns! Thank the universe that it ‘deteriorated’ away from that!

Try to go back and read English texts from the 17th century. A fair bit of the language used would be tedious, awkward, or indecipherable to most readers today. Why? Because language evolves, natch. Had the pundits in any era had their way, we’d still be speaking Proto-Indo-European with its vast array of strong verbs.

For one contemporary example of this phenomenon, check out Molly Worthen’s New York Times article about millennials’ love for the phrase “I feel like…” and how it’s the embodiment of  everything that’s wrong with that cohort. Then, you can read this post from NPR’s Geoff Nunberg about why the phrase  is not anything to get worked up about.

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