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Society for Pure English, Tract 03 (1920) A Few Practical Suggestions   By:

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[Transcriber's notes: Ligature 'oe' is represented by [oe], and the diacritic breve is represented by [)x]]

S. P. E

Tract No. III



Logan Pearsall Smith






The principles of the Society for Pure English were stated in general terms in its preliminary pamphlet; since, however, many questions have been asked about the application of these principles, a few suggestions about special points may be found useful. The Society does not attempt to dictate to its members; it does, however, put forward its suggestions as worthy of serious consideration; and, since they have received the approval of the best scientific judgement, it is hoped that they will be generally acceptable.

Some of them, when blankly stated, may seem trivial and unimportant; but we neither expect nor desire to make any sudden and revolutionary changes. A language is an established means of communication, sanctioned by the general consent, and cannot be transformed at will. Language is, however, of itself always changing, and if there is hesitation between current usages, then choice becomes possible, and individuals may intervene with good effect; for only by their preferences can the points in dispute be finally settled. It is important, therefore, that these preferences should be guided by right knowledge, and it is this right knowledge which the Society makes it its aim to provide. While, therefore, any particular ruling may seem unimportant, the principle on which that ruling is based is not so; and its application in any special case will help to give it authority and force. The effect of even a small number of successful interventions will be to confirm right habits of choice, which may then, as new opportunities arise, be applied to further cases. Among the cases of linguistic usage which are varying and unfixed at the present time, and in which therefore a deliberate choice is possible, the following may be mentioned:

I. The Naturalization of Foreign Words .

There is no point on which usage is more uncertain and fluctuating than in regard to the words which we are always borrowing from foreign languages. Expression generally lags behind thought, and we are now more than ever handicapped by the lack of convenient terms to describe the new discoveries, and new ways of thinking and feeling by which our lives are enriched and made interesting. It has been our national custom in the past to eke out our native resources by borrowing from other languages, especially from French, any words which we found ready to our needs; and until recent times, these words were soon made current and convenient by being assimilated and given English shapes and sounds. We still borrow as freely as ever; but half the benefit of this borrowing is lost to us, owing to our modern and pedantic attempts to preserve the foreign sounds and shapes of imported words, which make their current use unnecessarily difficult. Owing to our false taste in this matter many words which have been long naturalized in the language are being now put back into their foreign forms, and our speech is being thus gradually impoverished. This process of de assimilation generally begins with the restoration of foreign accents to such words as have them in French; thus 'role' is now written 'rôle'[A]; 'debris', 'débris'; 'detour', 'détour'; 'depot', 'dépôt'; and the old words long established in our language, 'levee', 'naivety', now appear as 'levée', and 'naïveté'. The next step is to italicize these words, thus treating them as complete aliens, and thus we often see rôle , dépôt , &c. The very old English word 'rendezvous' is now printed rendezvous , and 'dilettante' and 'vogue' sometimes are printed in italics. Among other words which have been borrowed at various times and more or less naturalized, but which are now being driven out of the language, are the following: confrere, congee, cortege, dishabille, distrait, ensemble, fête, flair, mellay (now mêlée ), nonchalance, provenance, renconter, &c... Continue reading book >>

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