FAIRBANKS- “Change is inevitable,” as Benjamin Disraeli pointed out. “Change is constant.” Ain’t it though? Once, for example, “ain’t” was considered proper grammar. The American Heritage Dictionary’s marvelous “Usage Notes” for “ain’t,” which read in part, “ain’t has a long history of controversy. It first appeared in 1778, evolving from an earlier ‘an’t,’ which arose almost a century earlier as a contraction of ‘are not’ and ‘am not.’
“In fact, ‘ain’t’ arose at the tail-end of an era that saw the introduction of a number of our most common contractions, including ‘don’t’ and ‘won’t.’ But while ‘don’t’ and ‘won’t’ eventually became accepted at all levels of speech and writing, ‘ain’t’ was to receive a barrage of criticism in the 19th century for having no set sequence of words from which it can be contracted, and for being a ‘vulgarism’ … despite all the attempts to ban it, ‘ain’t’ continues to enjoy extensive use in speech.”
Nonetheless, sometimes ain’t’s OK. It’s generally acceptable when trying to strike a folksy or colloquial tone, or to be humorous. It’s something to ponder if you’re an online dater. A popular app called the Grade “ranks the message quality of prospective online dates.” It looks for typos and grammar errors in the messages and awards letter grades from A+ to F.
A recent Wall Street Journal article by Georgia Wells titled, “What’s Really Hot on Dating Sites? Proper Grammar,” cited a Match.com survey that found that apart from personal hygiene, the most important criteria of subscribers was grammar. “88% of women and 75% of men said they cared about grammar most, putting it ahead of a person’s confidence or teeth.” For the record, hygiene’s importance came in at 96% for women and 91% for men. As Columbia University linguistics professor John McWhorter said, “Grammar snobbery is one of the last permissible prejudices,” now that racism and sexism aren’t acceptable. This partly stems from how language “has become amplified in recent years with increasing informal and colloquial usage,” according to Ben Zimmer, who, as chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, ought to know.
Wells said another reason grammar’s so important to dating ads is it “can reflect the level of effort, or lack thereof, that folks put into their bio. ‘People use quality of writing as an indication of work ethic,’ says Max Lytvyn, co-founder of automated proofreading company Grammarly. Grammarly analyzed spelling errors on dating site eHarmony. A man with two spelling errors on the site was 14 percent less likely to receive a positive response.”
Apparently some women do prefer the phrase “buck naked” over “butt naked.” Maeve Oxford, editor of DailyWritingTips.com, whose opinion I respect, wrote “I prefer ‘buck naked,’ because ‘butt-naked strikes my ear as excessively vulgar. I cannot, however, argue that one is ‘more correct’ than the other … Neither, however, has found a place in formal English.”
Can’t say that about “butt-dialing,” the kismet event caused by putting one’s cell phone in the back pocket, sitting down, and inadvertently auto-dialing someone on your phone’s friend list. New words just added to OxfordDictionaries.com’s vocabulary include “manspreading — when a man sits with his legs wide apart on public transport encroaching on other seats,” “hangry — adjective used to show feelings of anger or irritability as a result of hunger,” and, my favorite, “NBD,” the three-syllable abbreviation of the three-syllable phrase “no big deal.”
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “the weeping philosopher,” remarked in 500 BCE that “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” He lived in Ephesus, home of one of the great classical libraries That’s fitting since this week the last library catalog cards were printed by OCLC, the “leading library cooperative,” that created the first shared library catalog system in 1971. That year OCLC shipped the first of 1.9 billion printed catalog cards to libraries around the country, including, in 1977, Fairbanks.
Suddenly librarians didn’t have to spend hours painstakingly typing the five-to-twenty cards each book required. I fondly recall the slender drawers of golden cards conveying the wealth of knowledge held in our library. However, a 3-year-old once vomited into one of my library’s catalog drawers, requiring hundreds of hours of duplication. Sometimes change ain’t so bad.
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.