Changes in language rules, both big and small, are perplexing.

“Hey, Doc. Why so blue? It’s a gorgeous spring day.”

I lift my fingers from my keyboard. I’m so engrossed in my thoughts about all the changes in our language I didn’t notice him sitting beside me. Outside my screened-in-porch my backyard is a riot of color. The air is heavy with the fragrance of spring.

“Let me guess,” he says. “You miss winter and snow, don’t you?”

We know each other well. Over the years he has appeared in 22 of my columns, most recently eight years ago. But don’t talk to me about numbers. They make no sense to me.

“Of course I miss winter and snow,” I say, “but that’s not what has me down. Look at these messages.”

He glances at my computer screen. “But I thought you liked hearing from your readers.”

“I do, but I hate seeing them so unhappy about the changing rules.”

“You mean like using contact as a verb when it should be used only as a noun?”

“No, that change occurred over 50 years ago.”

“Over?” he says.

“Exactly,” I say. “In 2014 the Associated Press announced that more than and over may be used interchangeably. I ask you, which sounds more authoritative and professional? ‘We spent more than $1 million on research’ or ‘We spent over $1 million on research.’ ”

“Definitely more than.”

“I agree. Next thing you know they’ll say less than and under may be used interchangeably, as in ‘We spent less than $1 million’ and ‘We spent under $1 million.’ ”

“Yeah, well, I think they already said that. Maybe it’s because of the influence of the internet.”

“You mean ‘due to the influence of the internet.’ And don’t talk to me about the magic and the loss of the internet.”

“How about the art?”

“Not that either.”

“How about Virginia …”

“Not a word.”

“Whatever you say, Doc.”

“Can you believe that in advance of this year’s American Copy Editors Society conference they announced that internet and web are now lowercase words?”

“Outrageous.”

“And since when did we start using one space rather than two after periods and colons?”

“Well, with the advent of proportional font …”

“And since when did it become acceptable to spell judgment as judgement, the way the British do?”

“Scandalous,” he says. “Next thing you know we’ll be spelling color as colour and lifting the bonnets of our cars to check the oil and putting our bags in the boot.”

“Or spelling toward with an s at the end, or placing commas and periods after, rather than before, closing quotation marks, like this”.

“Unbelievable.”

“Or omitting the comma after the year, as in ‘On August 22, 2017 I’ll publish my 1,000th column,’ rather than ‘On August 22, 2017, I’ll publish my 1,000th column.’ ”

“If you’re lucky. Say, when did I first appear?”

“In November 1992.”

“No comma?”

“No, not with just the month and the year, only when the day’s date appears, as in ‘November 20, 1992.’ ”

“Got it. And what happens to me after 1,000 columns?”

“Who knows?”

 

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at wilbe004@umn.edu. His website is www.wilbers.com.