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?