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Why We Can’t Say Ain’t And Other Language Rules

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Aired 12/1/09

Why can't we say the word "ain't" without raising eyebrows? Who decided ain't was grammatically incorrect? The standards and rules governing language may seem arbitrary because language is always changing. We'll talk with Jack Lynch, author of "The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English from Shakespeare to 'South Park'" and working lexicographer and co-host of A Way With Words, Grant Barrett.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Let me be the first to admit, clearly and unequivocally, I have made mistakes in using the English language while hosting this show. I've sometimes used the wrong word, or messed up my syntax and I have dangled a whole lot of participles.

But the question of what misusing English really means is larger than an occasional misplaced modifier. Who makes up the rules of English usage? And who has the authority to change them? Does using English in an unusual way make one appear uneducated or creative? Here to discuss these intriguing questions are my guests. Jack Lynch, professor of English at Rutgers University and author of the new book, “The Lexicographer’s Dilemma: The Evolution of ‘Proper’ English, from Shakespeare to South Park.” Jack, welcome to These Days.

JACK LYNCH (English Professor, Rutgers University): Thanks very much.

CAVANAUGH: And Grant Barrett is a lexicographer and co-host of the language show, A Way With Words. Grant, welcome. Good morning, Grant.

GRANT BARRETT (Lexicographer): Good morning. How are you?

CAVANAUGH: I’m doing just great. And we’d also like our listeners to join the conversation. Do you have a question about why a certain rule of grammar exists or why a certain word hasn’t made it into the dictionary? Give us a call with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-KPBS, that’s 1-888-895-5727. Jack, what does proper English actually mean?

LYNCH: Well, that’s a much bigger question than you’d think. Because I wrote a guide to grammar and style originally for my students, I put it on the web so people from outside Rutgers use it all the time, a lot of business writers. And I often get e-mail from people who encountered the guide and they often phrase their question this way: When I was young, I learned such-and-such in school, but now I see people doing so-and-so and have the rules changed? And the trouble I always found with answering that question is knowing really what that question meant at all, have the rules changed? The fact is, there is no official set of rules of the English language. There is no committee that sits somewhere and votes, there is no government panel that’s authorized to say how a word should be spelled or used. It’s simply the habits, the hang-ups, the prejudices, the superstitions, the preferences of the hundreds of millions of people who use the language, and that’s what proper English is.

CAVANAUGH: Is this question about what is proper, is that the main dilemma that you focus on in “The Lexicographer’s Dilemma?” Has that faced lexicographers over time?

LYNCH: Well, anyone who’s been charged with sorting through the language, whether that’s a lexicographer writing a dictionary, someone writing a grammar or style guide, someone writing a systematic grammar, all of these people are faced with a challenge. Do they present the language in all of its messiness as it appears, its inconsistencies, its illogicalities, things that are just downright ugly? Or do they try to fix it? Do they try to clean it up? Do they say that you’re not supposed to speak this way or use that word? And everyone who’s had to deal with this problem has felt the tug in both directions. Most people have wanted to respect the will of the majority and clearly no one person can announce that, you know, from now on this word shall mean such and such. But most people have also realized that there are all sorts of things that nag them, that bother them, and that they want to clean up. And every lexicographer has wrestled with that for a good 300 years now.

CAVANAUGH: You describe that dilemma, Jack, as the prescribe or describe, right?

LYNCH: Yeah, the terms lexicographers and linguists use are prescriptive and descriptive.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

LYNCH: The grammar that most of us learned in school is prescriptive, they’re prescribing, they’re telling you what to do or, more often, what not to do. It’s a list of rules that you’re supposed to follow, and if you don’t follow you’re wrong. Descriptive linguistics or lexicography is simply observing what people do without any respect for whether it’s correct or not. And a classic example of where descriptivists and prescriptivists split is over a word like ain’t.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

LYNCH: The prescriptivists tell you it’s a naughty word. The descriptivists say everyone uses it—maybe not everyone but a huge number of people use it—and they simply want to note that fact and move on without chastising people for using the word that so many people use.

CAVANAUGH: Grant Barrett, let me bring you into the conversation. You are, as I say, a working lexicographer. First of all, just so that everyone is on the same page, so to speak, what does that word ‘lexicographer’ actually mean?

BARRETT: It means I’m a specialist in fish. No, no, no, it means I edit and compile dictionaries.

CAVANAUGH: You edit and compile dictionaries. Has Jack been describing basically the central dilemma that you face?

BARRETT: Yeah, it’s the very core of the friction that makes our work possible, that we feel as an educated society that we need somebody to help guide us through the language because it’s a mess. It’s tangled. It’s crazy, it’s insane, it’s – We’re constantly innovating. There’s so much of it that we look to people who usually choose, themselves, to provide some order and a little bit of understanding about it. We take a snapshot of the language. We put it in pages or on a website and we help people figure out what they want to say and the best way to say it.

CAVANAUGH: So, Grant, what is the current criteria that influences whether a word enters, you know, gets into a dictionary?

BARRETT: I’m afraid it’s nothing more prosaic than time. The lexicographer’s dilemma from my point of view is there is not enough time in the world. I cannot understate – I can’t overstate, I should say, I can’t overstate how large the language is and how much new language is created constantly. So when I look at all the new language before me, and it’s one of the things that I specialize in, new words, I have to decide what is the most important thing to work on? What – which of these few words deserve my attention? There is no way in the world that we’re ever going to accomplish completely summarizing every word and providing evidence and pronunciations and etymologies and so forth. So usually out of the thousands of words that are before me, I choose a few dozen. On a larger scale, something a little more – a little less personal, less about the trade and the profession of putting a dictionary together, the thing is, I need to see that a word has been used by a sufficiently large number of people across a sufficiently large period of time and in sufficiently public ways, and that last one is kind of the catching point because I get really interesting e-mails from the public all the time who say, here, here’s a new word that I coined, can you put this in your dictionary? And I’m like that’s a fantastic word but, no, I’m sorry, I can’t do that. You need to use this about a million more times and get other people to use it and then I’ll look at it again. So it’s – that word sufficiently is vague on purpose because every dictionary editor and every dictionary publishing enterprise has their own definition of what sufficient is.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Grant Barrett, co-host of the language show A Way With Words, and Jack Lynch, professor of English at Rutgers University and the author of the new book, “The Lexicographer’s Dilemma.” We’re talking about English usage and English words, what gets in the dictionary and why, and we’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s hear from Matt in Bonita. Good morning, Matt. Welcome to These Days.

MATT (Caller, Bonita): Thank you very much for having me. I’ll try to make my question brief. We – Pretty much, I suspect that the program’s going to be pretty forward-looking in terms of the directions and the morphing of language but I’ve been very interested in the notion that English, that that we call English, it isn’t really English, it certainly isn’t merry old English and is actually a morphing of a lot of the Gullah languages of Africa that have to do with African peoples coming to this country and lending some of their speech and language with – into what was English at the time. And I’m wondering about how much shrift is given to that and especially from the lexicographer’s perspective. How much do we acknowledge not only where the language is going but where it came from?

CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you for that, Matt. And let me pose that to you, Jack, that’s, I guess, an etymological question. And how much credence do we give to that?

LYNCH: Well, English has a long and complicated history. English – There was a language that we call English starting somewhere around the year 500. But if you read English from that period, you wouldn’t understand more than the occasional word in a paragraph. But language is constantly changing, it’s constantly going through all sorts of shifts in vocabulary, in grammar, and often it’s from outside influences. So around the year 1100, English got a huge influx of French words and later it got words from Latin and Greek. The caller’s question was about Gullah, which is a version of English, usually said to be a version of English, spoken especially in some African American communities in America, which is a strange hybrid of traditional English as most people understand it, and a huge number of words and some grammatical structures that come from African languages and it’s still actually a subject of a lot of dispute among professional linguists. Everyone agrees that the words, many of the words, are borrowed from African languages. The question is, how much of the grammar and the syntax has come from them, and no one really knows or rather there are many opinions on it. But this really plays out in what most professional linguists call African American Vernacular English, AAVE, though it entered public consciousness very prominently in the ‘90s as Ebonics. Is Ebonics a language in its own right? Is it an acceptable version of English? Is it a debased, illiterate version of English? And you can raise passions just by bringing up the word these days.

CAVANAUGH: That’s the very essence of this prescriptive and descriptive that you were talking about, those two opposite ends of the lexicographer’s dilemma.

LYNCH: Oh, exactly, and over different varieties of English, we often see some of the bitterest battles. We like to think that English is one thing, that there is such a thing as an English dictionary, and maybe we’re prepared to say, all right, we’ll have Webster’s American English Dictionary. And maybe the Canadians and the Australians need their dictionaries. But there’s an infinite number of Englishes. There are countless speech groups and writing groups and communities that use language in slightly different ways. And as Grant suggested, no one’s ever going to catalogue all of those ways. But deciding who’s in and who’s out is always a very politically charged decision.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Jack, one question for you as well, European countries, sometimes they have governing bodies overseeing their language rules—I’m thinking of France as an example—and they check the language to make sure it maintains a certain, I don’t know, purity and we don’t have anything like that in English. Do you think that we should, Jack?

LYNCH: Well, plenty of people have been calling for it. Since the 16th century, Italy has had the Accademia della Crusca, and since the 17th century France has had L'Académie Francaise, and they say what Italian and English – Italian and French are officially. Their rulings have virtually the power of law. People have been calling for similar academies in English since the 17th century and it’s included some very prominent writers. Jonathan Swift, who wrote “Gulliver’s Travels,” was a big advocate for an academy. And the second President of the United States, John Adams, was a big supporter of an academy and he recommended that Congress take it up. But to this day, there isn’t an English speaking country on the planet with an official academy. There’s no official rulebook out there anywhere.

CAVANAUGH: And, Grant, I want to ask you the same question about this idea of an academy for English and would you like to be the head of it?

BARRETT: No, no, it’s a thankless task because you spend a great deal of time deliberating and putting your official pronouncements out to the world and then they go – they’re quickly ignored except by government agencies and perhaps a few newspapers. The Académie Francaise is a great example. The kind of French that it pronounces to be official French is not the French that is spoken on the streets when somebody asks you for a cigarette or you go out for dinner and order your meal. It’s a very different language. So they’re doing a fine service as far as the part of – the very literate and the very intellectual classes are concerned but it’s got little influence on the day-to-day French spoken on the streets. And I think it would be the same in English.

CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break. When we return, we’ll continue our discussion about the English language and speak – continue our conversation with Jack Lynch and Grant Barrett, and continue taking your calls. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Jack Lynch. He is professor of English at Rutgers University and author of the new book “The Lexicographer’s Dilemma.” And Grant Barrett is a lexicographer. He’s co-host of the language show A Way With Words. We’re taking your calls and asking you to join the conversation if you have a question about why a certain rule of grammar exists or why a certain word hasn’t made it into the dictionary. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Jack, I’d like to start and pick up on something that Grant said before the break about the French academy that oversees how language is used in France and how it doesn’t really – their rules and regulations don’t really filter down to the way French is actually spoken on the streets. Why don’t, Jack, grammar rules match the way we actually talk? I’ve always been taught, you know how you said everybody starts their questions this way – but I always learned that spoken English is different from written English. Is that really true?

LYNCH: Well, yes, spoken English is different from written English but there are many different spoken Englishes and many different written Englishes, and the notion that one of them is correct and all the rest are wrong is a dangerous superstition. Some of them are suitable for some situations and some suitable for others, and some are appealing and some are ugly and some are efficient and some are poetic, and they all have their different place. Now the problem with issuing rules on the official form of the language is, first, it assumes that there is one form of the language and, second, it assumes that people are actually going to pay attention to the rules. The classic example of L'Académie Francaise, they hated the English import into French ‘le weekend’…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

LYNCH: …and spent the longest time insisting it should be ‘la fin de la semaine,’ the end of the week…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

LYNCH: …and kept issuing edict after edict about this horrible intruder in the French language. French speakers just didn’t give a damn, it is ‘le weekend.’ That is the word that everyone uses. So although plenty of people are glad to issue these rules, most people don’t really think they need to learn some rules to speak the kind of English they speak from day to day. The reason they do need some rules—and Grant alluded to this when he said people look for authority—is when they try to use a kind of the language that they’re not really comfortable using. So even though in my book I spell out that there’s really no such thing as one proper English, many people think that this means I’m saying that anything goes. Well, I teach English. I teach my students, you know, everything does not go. There are some kinds of language that you have to use, and they mostly correspond with what people have called proper English but they need to learn how to speak, say, in job interviews. They need to know how to write reports and so on. They don’t need anyone to tell them how to speak to their friends at the pool hall or at the bar. So if we become clearer about why we’re issuing the rules, what the rules are for, I think everyone will be a little bit happier.

CAVANAUGH: And, Jack, you say in the book, “Lexicographer’s Dilemma,” that proper grammar as we’ve come to understand it didn’t start to be imposed from the top down but from the bottom up, from people who were trying to rise above their station in life by speaking the way people used to call their betters spoke, isn’t that correct?

LYNCH: Yeah, in fact, the very first grammars of English we see written for English speakers—now that’s distinct from, say, a grammar of English written for a French speaker who wants to learn to speak English—but the first time that people studied the English language when they already spoke the English language is the late 17th, early 18th century. That’s when we start getting these books and they’re not imposed by aristocrats on the middle classes and lower classes below them, they’re actually written by the middle classes who are aspiring to sound like their betters. So correct English in those cases, they actually usually preferred the term polite English, was the kind of English spoken by the people higher up in the social hierarchy. And to this day, to some degree, when we talk about correct English, we’re really talking about the English of particular kinds of powerful people and usually from a generation or two ago since most of the so-called rules tend to be more conservative than actual usage.

CAVANAUGH: And so, Grant, would you say that there was even a linkage between language grammar and etiquette?

BARRETT: Definitely. A lot of the questions that are discussed in terms of what language is best come down to two things: circumstances and style. A lot of it boils down to what you’ve chosen as the way that you want to present yourself and it’s something that children learn very early. I’m a parent of a two-year-old toddler and he already knows that there’s certain things that he can say to his mother and that he should phrase them a certain different way when he speaks to his father. And we do this in all the varieties of our lives, all the different places that we encounter new circumstances. Have you ever seen a teenage talk to an adult that they don’t know and have just met for the first time? They almost always instinctively reach for the most formal English that they’re capable of because they’ve learned this somewhere along the way. And so when we think about the frictions, and that’s the word that I prefer to use, when we think about the frictions between the different sides discussing what language is the most appropriate, I often think that the battle, the fight itself for the argument, or the conversation if you prefer, is more important than ever coming to a resolution. It’s important that we discuss these things and that we talk about why we choose to speak the way we do or which speech we would prefer to hear when we are spoken to. The one thing I should say that what’s really interesting about the types of folks who are, how shall I put this, the most unrelenting or even the most shrewish when it comes to condemning others for their language actually bear a strong similarity to what Jack was saying about the history of these types of – this type of advice. They tend to be people who have, themselves, moved from one class to another.

CAVANAUGH: Umm.

BARRETT: They tend to have moved from one education class to another, from one economic class to another, even from one social group to another where they feel as if they’ve accomplished a great deed and the language is one of the strong tools in their toolbox.

CAVANAUGH: And, Jack, you say another big critic of language tends to be from people who are politically conservative.

LYNCH: Well, it’s curious that most of the people who want to regulate the language in the English speaking world tend to be politically conservative. Now, modern conservatism, at least in the form of, say, the Republican Party is sometimes fairly libertarian and sometimes interventionist. Modern conservatives, for the most part—and this is a broad generalization—but for the most part modern conservatives are libertarian when it comes to the free market. They say the government shouldn’t be interfering in the operation of the market; the invisible hand will take care of all that. On the other hand, they like to get interventionist on questions of morality. The government should step in and regulate obscenity and drug use and sex and so on. Now, it’s not obvious in the abstract which of these two classes language should fall into and I find it interesting—I don’t know what it says about the world—but I do find it interesting that most people who are constitutionally conservative tend to treat language as if it’s part of the moral spectrum and they’re not content to let the free market do its thing. This is where they think they need to reach in with a firm hand and not allow market principles to decide what’s right. We need stern discipline. A curious observation.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah…

LYNCH: It didn’t have to work out that way.

CAVANAUGH: …that is interesting. Let me, if I may, move on to another lexicographer’s dilemma, and that is obscene words, words that are designated obscene and offensive. There have been words that have not been included in dictionaries based on moral grounds, including words that might not seem so offensive today. Let’s say like, Jack, I think there was a problem with the word condom in the Oxford English Dictionary.

LYNCH: Yes, the Oxford English Dictionary, which got going in the late 19th century, starting in the 1860s and ‘70s, set out to be completely descriptive. They wanted to include every word that had been used by a sufficient number of people but without any judgment of whether these words are right or wrong. But there were a few – now, inevitably, there were words they missed simply because their reading project didn’t get around to discovering words, and that’s a simple failing but we understand that. But there were a few words that they chose to leave out and two of them were the two most offensive obscenities which, to this day, we can’t say over the radio…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

LYNCH: …but another one that was left out was the word condom. One of the readers came across the description of this obscene device, he said, which saves fornicators from a well-deserved clap, and he insisted that this word should not appear in the dictionary. And the editor in chief went along with him on that. It did later make in into a revision, but he found the whole concept so offensive that he did not want to spread the word in the dictionary.

CAVANAUGH: Grant, is it true that the offensiveness of certain words change over time?

BARRETT: Oh, definitely. And it – They not only grow softer or milder but sometimes they grow more severe and more unwelcome so there’s an ebb and a flow, there are waxing and waning about how words are perceived. Even in the different major Englishes spoken around the world right now, you will have certain words taken in a different way. For example, ‘bloody’ as an oath, in the United States has almost no power whatsoever. In Australian politics, bloody can be heard in Parliament but in the U.K. it still in some circles has a little bit of a naughty air about it, something that you probably wouldn’t say to your grandmother.

CAVANAUGH: That’s very interesting. And from what I take from your book, Jack, the famous seven forbidden words that you can’t use on radio that George Carlin came up with, I think it was in the ‘70s, they actually weren’t forbidden until he came up with them, is that correct?

LYNCH: It’s a bizarre history. George Carlin did this routine in 1972 about the seven words that you can never say on television or radio. Now there wasn’t actually any law on words you could or couldn’t say on the radio or television It was understood that the FCC had the power to regulate it, and they clearly had their preferences but nowhere was it spelled out what could or couldn’t be said. But Carlin, who loved playing with the language, came up with seven words so offensive that you can never say them in any context without being offensive, and it’s a very, very funny routine because he loves the language play. But in 1973, a radio station played this routine at two in the afternoon. There were complaints and the FCC fined the station, and this led to a battle that made its way all the way to the Supreme Court. And in 1978, the Supreme Court ruled that the FCC does, in fact, have the authority to regulate and what became in case law the more or less official list of words you can’t say was the list that Carlin came up with. So this foul-mouthed champion of free speech inadvertently wrote the law on censorship. It was probably the furthest thing from his mind but that’s what he ended up doing.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s take a call. Sam is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Sam, and welcome to These Days.

SAM (Caller, San Diego): Yes, good morning. I wonder if we could distinguish between words on the one hand and grammar on the other. So we could be descriptive as to about the lexicon but prescriptive as to about grammar. We were talking about weekend, for example, I don’t mind introducing weekend into the French language but if we start changing grammatical rules then all hell breaks loose. If we – An example of this that continues to bother me, two examples of this, criteria sometimes can get used as a singular when it’s actually plural. Or my favorite from my kids who come home and they’ll say ‘there’s two people in the room,’ when they should be saying ‘there are two people in the room.’ Now descriptivists will say that’s fine, but it bothers me.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I’d like to get reactions from both of our guests. Thank you for the call. Jack, so is there a difference between the rules of grammar and introducing new words into the language?

LYNCH: They’re big subjects. Yes, when linguists talk about grammar, they mean something different from what most lay folk mean by the word. Many people use grammar to mean anything related to the language but, from a professional point of view, grammar has to do with morphology, which is the forms words take, and syntax, which is the ways they’re connected to one another. Things like whether you put a colon or comma after ‘dear sir or madam’ is not a matter of grammar at all, though many people think it is. Still, the same general principles apply, that there is no official set and many people who crusade to preserve one distinction tend to think that other people are being too fussy about their distinctions. And a classic example of something that the rule books will tell you is correct English but very, very few people, even the most meticulous would actually say, is ‘it is I’…

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

LYNCH: …instead of ‘it’s me.’ The grammar books typically tell us that because ‘is’ is a verb of being and ‘it’ is the subjective instead of the objective form, it should be ‘I’ instead of ‘me.’ The problem is only comic book superheroes actually say ‘it is I.’ No one in real life says that. Maybe if you’re doing a Nobel Prize acceptance speech or something like this. So even the strict prescriptivism on grammar has its places and there’s some places where it just doesn’t belong. And, of course, everyone thinks that he or she has found the sweet spot between sloppiness on the one hand and pedantry on the other but it’s hard to find two people who agree on every one of those little rules.

CAVANAUGH: And, Grant, I wonder, are people more open to a new word than perhaps a new way of using English that perhaps they’re – they don’t like or they think is wrong?

BARRETT: Oh, I gotta tell you, it’s terrible. The new words things, I’m – This is the time of the year when we’re always discussing the words of the year.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

BARRETT: And so what happens is when I present my list of new words to various people, if they know a word on my new word list, they’ll say, well, that’s not new. I was – how could that be on there? And if it’s a word that they haven’t heard of, they say, well, that can’t possibly be a new word, I haven’t heard of it. And so there’s really no winning there. But people are – they have a sense of ownership about language and as Jack very – put very nicely, they’re a little torn up inside. I mean, I’m kind of rephrasing there but if they were ever forced to reconcile their internal inconsistencies and the way that they consider all forms of language and everything about it then they would explode because we are – we were – we’re incredibly unreasonable people when it comes to this stuff. We have our pet peeves, we have our favorite words, we have the things we like, we dislike, we even have voices that drive us to distraction where the same thing said by someone else would be just fine. It’s just that particular person said it. The caller raised a couple of peeves which I’ve heard before, and he’s right about the criteria/criterion thing. I think for most people, though, they don’t really care because they’re getting their point across. And as far as the subject/verb agreement with ‘there’s’, there’s actually a word for that. I want to point that out. If you say ‘there’s a million reasons why people say that,’ if you say ‘there’s a million,’ it should be ‘there are.’

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

BARRETT: Right?

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BARRETT: But it’s a form, I believe, of synesis, s-y-n-e-s-i-s, where you, in order to get a point across, in order to kind of make – have an impact, you alter – you just decide not to go with what is the best form of syntax and instead you go with the sense of it. And for most people, the contraction ‘there’s’ has kind of a stand alone power where it just means – it’s like the French il ya or the Spanish hay, h-a-y, there are a lot of something, or there is a lot of something, but you can use kind of the same construction either way. In any case, people – Yeah, don’t ever ask anyone to reconcile their internal inconsistencies. They’ll be a mess.

CAVANAUGH: They’ll explode.

BARRETT: They’ll explode.

LYNCH: I can pick up on that. I always have the example in 7th grade Mr. Gallo taught me that often, o-f-t-e-n, the only correct way to pronounce that word was offen (phonetic), not often, and I internalized that rule and now many years later I’ve written books on this subject, I’ve spent many years doing scholarly research into the language. I know Mr. Gallo was simply wrong. They’re both acceptable pronunciations. But to this day, when I hear often, something inside me cringes and I want to reach out…

CAVANAUGH: Umm.

BARRETT: Oh, Jack, you’re terrible. I’m the culprit. I’m the man. I get e-mailed about that from my listeners every week. Grant, you’re a co-host of a radio show about language, how can you say often? And I tell them, for me, it’s blood in roots. I got it from my father, he got it from his father, that’s how we pronounce it, that’s how I’m going to say it.

LYNCH: Exactly.

BARRETT: My son will probably say it that way, too.

LYNCH: And they are both perfectly acceptable pronunciations with long histories but passions do run high on these things.

BARRETT: But, you know, I have to say that like I said before, the best thing about all this, it’s the fight. Keep talking about it. Keep discussing it. It’s an incredibly interesting topic. We all share this massive, messy thing that’s so delightful and wonderful and does pretty much every task that we ask of it, it does it.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you both. We are out of time right now. I’m so sorry we couldn’t get to all of your calls. If you’d like to post your comments online, go to KPBS.org/TheseDays. Thank you so much, Jack Lynch, for appearing on the program.

LYNCH: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And Jack’s new book is called “The Lexicographer’s Dilemma.” Grant, it was so nice to speak with you again. Thank you.

BARRETT: All right, bye-bye.

CAVANAUGH: He is co-host of the language show A Way With Words. Stay with us. Coming up in just a few moments here on KPBS, what the early numbers are telling us about this year’s holiday shopping season. It’s next on These Days.

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