Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Reign in Those Vocal Chords

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Reign in Those Vocal Chords

Article excerpt

I consider myself rather progressive in my political and social views. (Look to wind and waves for electrical power? Seems like a good idea to me!) But when it comes to the English language, I may very well be a fogy.

Recently, on National Dictionary Day, there was a report on the evening news about revisions being made by the Oxford University Press (OUP) to its American Oxford Dictionaries. In short, the spelling of many terms and expressions, long deemed incorrect, would now be listed as acceptable forms simply because a lot of people use them.

One example is "vocal cord." As a biology teacher, I've written this on the board so many times that I consider myself an expert on its spelling. However, the OUP tells us that many, many people write "chord." Therefore, "chord" has now been given the status of a bona fide spelling.

Another instance is "to rein in." I am not a horseman, but I've always understood that this refers to a rider's pulling back on the reins to either slow his steed or get it to stop. However, many people, it seems, like to write "reign." And so - poof! - this is now acceptable.

Other examples reported on the show were "shoo-in" (as in, "The candidate was a shoo-in for reelection") as opposed to the (until now) incorrect "shoe-in" (conjuring the image, I suppose, of a traveling salesman putting his foot in the door to prevent the resident from closing it and sending him on his way).

And then there was "bated breath." Now, in this instance I admit that I often forget whether the word is spelled "bated" or "baited." So I do what any dinosaur would do. I open the dictionary and check. (Yes, it's "bated.") But that's just old fuddy-duddy me. OUP once again reports that many people write "baited," and so this has now been granted the status of acceptable usage.

My great fear is that my students will learn of this new, official, laissez faire approach to language (not that they need formal sanction for their poor orthography) and will use it to defend the errors of their ways. …

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