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An accidental post

Sometime when engaged in other social media, I accidentally write a blogpost and wish I had expended the effort here instead. That is what happened on Facebook here, in response to a question from my Facebook friend David Barnet about the differences (if any) between "meet", "meet with" and "meet up with". For those of you with principled objections to Facebook (and I know you are out there) here is what I wrote.

The English language is a living rebuke to authoritarians everywhere. It is a complex system (the biggest language ever, with more than a million words) which has evolved socially with no central authority. There is no "English Academy" to rival the "Academie Francaise" and there is no damned need of one. The only sanction for misuse is the setting of teeth on edge and eventually, if a neologism doesn't set too many of them so, it becomes an accepted part of the language. The English language is the linguistic equivalent of the English Common Law and is almost as great a gift to the world. Like Shakespeare (the greatest setter of teeth on edge in its history) it is not of one place but for all the world, it is not of one age but for all time.

Please, as examiners used, irritatingly, to say – "discuss". 


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As I wait reclined for my knee to heal after receiving the (welcome) attentions of an excellent surgeon, I've been watching a series called "How the Universe Works" on one of the TV documentary channels. Excellent, it is; a bit like Horizon before H became irretrievable dumbed-down and had to repeat everything at 5 minute intervals for the benefit of the ADD generation beloved of the BBC.

I first read your post just after seeing graphics modelling the collision of two galaxies (which of course, takes tens or hundreds of millions of years to happen in reality, but there we are). And what do we have? Mutual destruction? No. The collision of any two or more stars is an event of such low probability that it wouldn't happen.

The galaxies come together and mingle while gravity flings stars, gas and "stuff" in all directions. Then it all comes back together again, and gets flung off yet again until a new galaxy is made of the two - completely different in form to either one of its constituents. Order restored, and the whole thing goes sailing off into the aether - a murmuration of galactic-scale starlings.

A bit like the collision of languages in a country which has been invaded multiple times, invaded others multiple times, had an Empire covering two-thirds of the planet and hundreds of different languages, traded successfully with them all (on balance) rather than nicking it from them (is that you, France? Belgium? Germany?) and most of all, the confidence to learn and use the languages of others instead of beating the old out of them and replacing it with a new mother tongue.

I suppose it's not a brilliant analogy, but it made Oi smile. Better lay off the painkillers for a while, I think.

Back to the topic, I agree with your summary. Some things irritate massively - the media's endless confusion of "amount" with "number" and "less" with "fewer", but I'm pretty relaxed, these days, about split infinitives (for which, a pox on the French and the Victorians). The glory of English is the ease with which it deals with elements of other languages and absorbs them seamlessly. We see the results after 950 years of the Normans - the language isn't what it was before, but it's different, bigger, better and as a direct result of absorbing other languages, it's the only game in town in the economically- and socially-dominant parts of the planet.

As for your friend's Facebook enquiry - IMHO, they're all the same, they're all correct or correct enough, and they're each a matter of individual choice. "Meet" is formal, and correct; the other two are informal and correct, and I wouldn't choose either for a written submission.


I am all in favour of inventing new words for new things or ideas. And why not riffle around to bring back to life old forgotten words like allision. (Though this used in maritime law.) I even applaud new meanings for old words.
But what I cannot abide is the mutilation of words by simple careless pronunciation. I am not speaking of accents and dialects. I think these should preserved and used ALONGSIDE teaching of "proper" English if any teachers can be found. I have in mind Americanisms. How in hell's name is mutual understanding enhanced by, eg Annardigger or rederick or innernet.
Luckily it seems that the great majority of people planning to learn English want to finish with a British accent.

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