Wednesday, November 17, 2004

a weltanschauung apparatchik

I am a moderate grammer nazi - if "moderate" and "nazi" can be used in the same sentence. [Edited to add: correction by the spelling nazi, "grammar." Whatever.]

I distinguish this specifically from a spelling nazi, becuase I tend to use words like "tonite" with a certain gleeful abandon. I also consider myself moderate, because I am sensitive to the conventions of style (form following function) and open to convincing on most points. I am also highly permissive of elipses, parenthesis, and many of the overused iterations of modern communication, especially in instant messages, mostly because I consider them effective communicators of emotion, and more accurately represetative of verbal communication. I'll admit to overusing them myself from time to time, and of being afraid to be the man who "throws the first stone," as if I don't have regular grammer slip-ups myself.

The issues that bring out my inner nazi tend to be noun-verb agreement, singular-plural agreement, and certain, more archaic conventions like the correct use of the subjunctive in phrases like "If I were..." (I must give credit to Brilau for driving this point home in college.)

But for sheer fastidiousness, few people beat this man, who has written several volumes on the correct and modern uses of the English language (dare I say, the "American" language?) But in the article referenced above (NOTE: NYTimes articles require free registration) the author uses several foreign words to convey his point, and also, I believe, to indicate his linguistic superiority over his subject and readers.

When are foreign words appropriate in an English language composition?

Is it acceptable for someone to critique another's use of the English language using several prominent foreign language words? I know that the philosophy/theology world tends to use foreign words (biggest culprits here: Latin, Greek, German and French) to express particular theological concepts that have no English equivalent. However, I have noticed a certain "creeping" of these words into the regular parlance of our small band of illuminati. I'm distressed, because I feel that this not only makes us look like intellectual snobs, but huge dorks as well! There's a grey area as well, because the words listed in the title of this post are in the dictionary, though most of us have no idea what they mean.

So what do you think? Am I right to be skeptical of so much creeping "polyglottalism" in my own vocabulary and in others? Or is it simply a fait accompli as folks move up the educational ladder? I await your thoughts...
Grace & Peace