Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Modulating Our Opposition to New Prepositions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Modulating Our Opposition to New Prepositions

Article excerpt

Sometimes life really is a bowl of cherries. I really mean that. It's been a wonderful summer for fruit. The melon that I thought I'd left too long the other day proved to be a miracle of sweetness and juice. Even the supermarket peaches have been beautiful. So have the blueberries. And such abundance! Their little tubs in the fridge seem to be multiplying in the dark.

And while we're on the subject of things increasing in number when you're not paying attention: One of my favorite early warning systems of language change, the Johnson blog at The Economist, has just reported on a "new" preposition.

The significance of this is that prepositions are "function words," and there are far fewer of those than there are of "content words," such as nouns and verbs.

New nouns and new verbs are, well, nothing new, and they switch roles all the time. That's one of the ways we get new nouns and verbs. Most of us know this in the abstract but are not above getting ruffled by individual instances of this phenomenon. "Now that the Olympics are over, can we please stop using 'medal' as a verb?" was the plaint from some quarters after the torch was extinguished in London.

And someone was on my case the other day about contact used as a verb, for heaven's sake. I pointed out that people use it that way because it lets them get across in one word the idea of "drop by or write a letter or call on the telephone or send an e-mail message or send an instant message or send a text message or leave a voice- mail message or post a comment on our website or maybe tuck a message into flowers you order delivered from your smart phone." In fact, contact has been a time- and space-saver since the days when all it covered was "phone or write or wire."

But I digress. …

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