Dave’s WW of EU: Consensus of the Educated

I realized a few days ago that I have never explained this concept even though I have referenced it multiple times. And since it really is one of the foundational elements of determining any usage….

Consensus of the educated is a line of thought that suggests that correctness in any language is determined by the educated class, meaning that if educated people use a word or phrase a certain way, it will, over time, become the standard.

As mentioned in a previous WW of EU, lie vs. lay is a good example where the correctness of usage is probably changing because of the consensus of the educated. This particular case, however, is happening in spite of the consensus of the educated. Most grammarians, English teachers, and others still correctly use and advocate correct usage of lie and lay. However, the primary body of speakers (you), who are also educated, do not generally make a strong distinction between the usage. Over time, this educated class has and will continue to adjust the meaning of those words until they become synonymous in usage. Personally, I believe that distinction will happen in as few as fifty years.

Another good example of consensus of the educated at work is the word ain’t. That one, however, will need to wait for a time when I can do it justice.

The basic point of this principle is, of course, to demonstrate that language is a living and constantly changing beast. Words come and go based on current standards and, largely, based on your own willingness to use them and accept them. Google, when used as a verb meaning to search on the Google site, wasn’t even a word just 12 years ago. Now it has changed again to mean virtually any search done on the Internet. Isn’t it interesting that Microsoft’s own search engine, Bing, has tried to capitalize on that phenomenon by using the phrase, “Bing it!” In the end, it will be you, my dearly educated reader, who will decide if that is really a word.

Oh, and this is just one more weapon in your arsenal now to throw at the grammar snob we all know. 🙂

After all, if communication happens, isn’t it, at least on some level, correct?

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4 Responses to Dave’s WW of EU: Consensus of the Educated

  1. nosurfgirl says:

    🙂 I know there’s some kind of Webster’s panel that votes words into existence somewhere. I find it delightfully inventive and hopelessly elitist at the same time. It’s tough, though. Usage and grammar are important, and somewhere there has to be an “offical” consensus at times, and who better than the current educated? And we’re still a lot less snobby than the French, so there ya go.

  2. marlajayne says:

    Three of my work cohorts and I eat together once a week, and we’ve begun referring to ourselves as the “word club.” Anyone who joins us has to bring a new word, its definition, its origin, and a sentence. One of my words this week was spilth. Check it out. As a father, you’ve probably had plenty of spilt milk around your house, and this work is a perfect way to describe it.

  3. Viviana says:

    I understand that languages evolve but…

    I’m a proud word nerd, grammar snob and stickler for the correct use of language. I have gone down kicking and screaming over the use (not “usage”!) of “their” to refer to an individual. I simply write “users” rather than “user” and avoid the whole mess.

    My current pet peeves include the almost ubiquitous misuse of fewer/less and more/more and (not a grammar issue) people saying “I could care less” when they mean “I couldn’t care less”.

    Those “educated” in the English language (at least the ones I know) agree with me. So, who are the “educated” who formed the consensus to use “their” to refer to the singular?

  4. daveloveless says:

    Oh uh…. I’m afraid I’m one of those who quite frequently uses “their” to refer to individuals, and I see it becoming more common. For me, the usage is a convenient way to avoid the issues regarding our singular gender pronouns. When possible, I do attempt to pluralize the subject to avoid both issues, but I don’t necessarily actively pursue it either. To be frank, I _don’t_ see it as a mistake, and I _am_ one of the highly educated on language, editing, and linguistics. On the same hand, I have had several fairly active debates with fellow editors and writers.

    The point of the educated in the Consensus of the Educated is that the “educated” _isn’t_ necessarily the grammarians or the English teachers or the editors. Face it, a good number from that group perpetuate language myths about much of our language, especially regarding functional and logical words like “ain’t.” No, the “educated” in this sense is pretty much anyone who is educated at all. In our modern and highly literate society, that pretty much means that if you are reading this and understanding it, you’re part of the group.

    When that particular population allows any part of our language to either be adopted or die off (and yes, I purposefully split that infinitive to illustrate a point), they have made a choice.

    An example: Name the editor, grammarian, or English teacher that approved “Google” as a verb. Which dictionary? Which of these ” unofficial governing bodies of the English language” approved the word?

    Answer: None of them. Sure, many of them approved it _after_ it became common place, but the truth is that we, the educated, found a new word that made sense and admitted it into our language.

    That’s how it works.

    If this is a subject that is of interest to you, I strongly recommend Googling “language academy,” specifically for French. It’s a fascinating history and helps explain many of the reasons that English in particular is such a powerful, rich language with an incredible history.

    If you care, I once wrote a post about that topic. You can find it here:

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