What To Do About Language Bullies

I enjoyed this Slate article, Are You a Language Bully? a great deal. The one thing I’d add to it is that most of the things that language bullies like to harp about are actually incorrect when you bother to do a little research. Take the example from the article where an NPR listener complained about using “decimate” to mean “destroying a large portion of” rather than, “executing every tenth person.” A quick survey of no less than four dictionaries reveals
that every single one of them lists “destroying a large portion of” as a definition, and three out of four list it as the primary definition.

If you’re faced with a language bully, do a quick search through a dictionary or through Language Log, and there’s an excellent chance they’ll have the goods on whatever your bully is complaining about. Your language bully is operating based on whatever feels right to them; the professional linguists who run Language Log enjoy writing Python scripts to crunch through reams of English text in their copious free time.

The other thing about language bullies is that like most bullies, they learned their behavior by being bullied themselves. It might feel good to “punch the bully in the nose” with your answer, but instead, please try to be kind and respectful. With proper guidance, language bullies can be reformed! Believe me, I know.