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464. Retreat (XII)

Personally, I am against dictionaries. The dictionary, so far as it goes, is a relatively new innovation; it goes back to the 18th century and Dr. Johnson—and he is a difficult figure. In some ways a reactionary, a man who opposed the American Revolution, Johnson was also quite exhibitionistic and irritable; a rotund man, not unlike GK Chesterton, who was given to demonstrative moaning and complaint; and people like that always feel suspect to me.

Dictionaries are to language as central banks are to currency, the dictionary ultimately debases language and is finally captured by political manipulators. As far as spelling goes, u wld b srprsd to what degree you can use idiosyncratic spellings and still be entirely comprehensible. Text-speak demonstrates this is so, although it is now dying out because the constraints that created it—phones where you would type telegram-like messages measured by the character—have long since died out. In a perfect spelling regime, we would be denied wtf, omg, and lol; and what a shame that would be.

In a more sinister line, dictionaries are now under direct political control—by the left—so that meanings are altered in real-time to match political needs, Webster’s is particularly bad in this respect; and yet the trend is general—it only differs in degree. These dictionaries are synched with contemporary media so that the “current usage” section is always drawn from The New York Times and company. This is significant because a good section of the population have been taught—probably at university—that analysis begins and ends with the dictionary, with a definition. They will not look to common usage, common sense, or etymology to determine what a word means—they will point to a dictionary entry and say, “There, that is what ‘liberal’ means. The dictionary says it, and my essay guide at university said that is where to begin with research. You are wrong.” This becomes sinister when the inability to think or be curious combines with issues such as transgenderism, where definitions and what words mean are centrally important.

Language is dynamic and robust—well, English is robust anyway. Various attempts have been made to corral languages at the state level, notably the French have tried to keep their language pure from American English; for the most part these attempts have failed. Dictionaries have never really reflected language, anyway: until the 1960s certain obscenities were excluded, including the common “fuck”—now words are redefined on a whim. The dictionary has always been about social control, and its primary joy has been to allow schoolboys to finally look up rude words.

Spellcheckers, auto-dictionaries, constantly annoy people with unwanted corrections—sometimes humorously so; and yet lives would be richer if all spellcheckers were turned off. You would be surprised quite what people would do with the language if there were no spellcheckers, the verbal currency would be renewed; and you would be surprised that much more would be comprehensible to you than you would expect. As with markets, the best policy is to let the language alone; or, perhaps, allow many dictionaries to flourish and make no attempt to reconcile them all. You might even be surprised to find that certain words we still use are actually “bad currency”, inflated beyond any practical use—time for them to be allowed to go bankrupt and clear out the dead wood.

Forced linguistic reform has always come from the left; notably, Esperanto, an invented and unpopular “universal” language, was associated with the left throughout the 20th century—yet the market demand for a universal language is actually met organically by English. As usual, the desire to conform and control and standardise is leftist; yet the organic language slips away and is so much better than that. So let us do away with the standard dictionary, let a thousand dictionaries flourish; we must let the language rebarbarise—it dominates the globe, beats out all competitors, and yet threatens to leave a desert behind it.


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