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Why not all language "errors" are indisputably wrong

Feb 21, 2017

The possessive “s” could be in danger.

At least, that’s what linguist Anne Curzan says. 

Take a listen:

At Pretzel Bell in Ann Arbor Monday night, Anne Curzan and Rebecca Kruth, co-hosts of That’s What They Say, led an Issues & Ale discussion about the ever-changing English language.

Audience members asked Curzan about their biggest language pet peeves, like the following:

“Like my big problem is like using the word like constantly. Where’s it come from? Where should it go?”

“Is ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ a losing battle?”

“What do you think about ‘yeah, no’ and its cousin, ‘no, yeah’?”

“I really, really hate it when I’m with a group of women – sometimes there might be a man or not – I’ll be in a situation and someone will come up and say, ‘How are you guys?’”

Contrary to popular belief, Curzan said not all language “errors” are indisputably wrong.

Rebecca Kruth takes the mic. She's co-host of That's What They Say and host of Weekend Edition on Michigan Radio.
Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

“One of the things I do as a linguist is embrace language change and language variation,” she said. “The language is always going to change and young people are going to be the people who drive that.”

For instance, younger people often use the phrase “you guys” to address a group of women, or a group that includes women.

That’s problematic to some. “Guy” is usually masculine word.

“What linguists are trying to figure out is has the ‘guy’ there become bleached?” Curzan said. “In other words, it just is doing plural work.”

She said, in her view, the word “guy” can lose its masculine reference in this instance, making the phrase “you guys” an acceptable phrase.

Take a listen to her explanation below:

For the full conversation, listen above.