Through these many years of blogging, a few trends have caught my attention. Perhaps the one most surprising to me has been the consistent misspelling of the word “lightning” which I often encounter in the guise of “lightening”. I’ve often marveled at the persistence of this typographical oversight and how it took hold of so many minds.
Not that it’s a big deal, however. As long as I can understand what I’m reading, I don’t think it matters terribly when writers mistake one word for another if they sound highly similar. Another example: “then” and “than”. The former refers to cause and effect or ordinality, the latter to a comparative antecedent, but people use the two of them interchangeably. Since each word has a distinct definition, we could easily combine them into one word anyway, something which happens a lot as language evolves.
So, I do think that the self-appointed correctors of the English Language ought to chill a bit (and not in the temperature lowering definition of that word, he clarified archly.) There is however one misusage that does annoy me more than a smidge which is the use of “literally” to imply obvious exaggeration, as in “I literally died laughing.” This butchering of the concept of literalness, though intentionally ironic, does undermine the ability of people to tell when said irony is taking place. If I were to say, “I literally ran ten miles.” and mean it, people in this day and age likely would take that as hyperbole, which is precisely what the term “literally” was invented to disambiguate.
Then, let me leave you all with this last thought. Some mistakes trip us up, some expand our minds, and some become monuments to both the ignorance and creativity of the human mind. This is language, all.