WUOMFM

Anxiously awaiting your reply ... or is it eagerly?

Oct 5, 2014

If you’re anxious to hear about this year’s usage ballot of the American Heritage Dictionary, you’re in luck.

University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan is on the panel that gives thumbs-up – or down – to the way we use certain words.

It happens that “anxious” versus “eager” is on the ballot this year.

Curzan says “anxious” is often used to say we’re feeling worried.

“But when I’m anxious to do something, it could mean that I’m actually looking forward to it,” Curzan says.

So “anxious” is an acceptable substitute for “eager.”

Also up for the panel's discussion: advocate … or advocate for.

“This was the first question on the usage ballot this year, and it made me think, ‘Goodness, am I just going to accept everything on the ballot?’ They were asking whether it was OK to say 'advocate for,'" Curzan says.

"For example, 'I’m going to advocate for students.' Many of us would probably say that is fine. Now if you’re going to advocate for an initiative, are you advocating for the initiative, or are you advocating the initiative.?

“I think I could do either, but I would probably use “for” more often,” Curzan says. “I did an informal poll of my students, and they really like the “for.” It’s coming into the language, and I voted “completely acceptable” on the ballot.

Another word: “finalize.”

Curzan says she has no problem with the word, but did some research.

“When I looked at the history of this, in the late 1960s, 90% of the usage panel did not like this verb. They thought it was too bureaucratic. But I have to say the example sentences, which were things like ‘once we finalize our plans’ or ‘the divorce is finalized' – I thought were completely acceptable.”

Here’s one you may not have heard: “Hot-button fashion.”

"The ballot had two sentences. One was about 'hot-button issues,' which is fine, and then it was 'hot-button fashion' – which was supposed to refer to popular fashions," Curzan says. “I had never heard of this, so I looked in the data bases, couldn’t find it, and polled my students who said ‘We don’t say this.’”

So Curzan’s vote for hot-button fashion?

“I said that one is somewhat acceptable.”

Anne Curzan is a professor of English at the University of Michigan and the author of  "Fixing English: Prescriptivism and Language History."