According to vocabulary.com, "A peeve is an annoyance, and a pet peeve is an annoyance that's nurtured like a pet--it's something someone can never resist complaining about. There are all kinds of pet peeves, like littering, misusing punctuation, driving slowly in the fast lane, or talking during movies. If something like that drives you crazy and you have to yap about it, it's a pet peeve."
There have tended to be two sides in the grammar holy war: On one side we have the pet peevers, the curmudgeons, and the sticklers, who defend the existing, traditional rules of grammar and usage to maintain the structural integrity of the language.
On the other we have the cretins, the creatives, the careless, and the hapless, who disregard the rules, and sometimes fail utterly, but who also sometimes create a new way to use words, bend phrases, and enrich the ability of language to express new or more nuanced meanings.
Put another way, the war is one of the editors, wordsmiths, and grammarians of the world against creative writers, renegades, school children, ESL strugglers, and those who just plain flunked English.
Most people tend to fall in one of these camps or the other. I've certainly been proud to be on the curmudgeon--stickler, grammarian side of things--making my first career in editing and my second and third careers writing and teaching about it.
But for the past few years I've struggled a little with the peevish side of being a grammarian.
The definition of pet peeve I cited above helps pinpoint my discomfort: If a pet peeve is an annoyance one "can never resist complaining about," then it just might be a compulsion. It is worth looking askance at anything that has become a compulsion.
Do I want to give up caring about proper English? Certainly not. But how do I put a damper on the peevishness? Where is the line between being some kind of compulsive complainer and being a wordsmith and grammar professional? An answer came to me from a surprising source: the second novel by Robert Persig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
In Lila, Persig outlines two types of "quality": static and dynamic. Static quality is the value of keeping things the way they are. Dynamic quality is the value of change for the better. These two types of value, or quality, are in conflict.
When applied to the world of words and language, this framework provides a way out of the dilemma of my title: to peeve or not to peeve.
How do you tell whether a particular usage is moving language forward or backward?
There is value in preserving the existing meanings, grammar rules, and standard usage. That's what keeps language understandable. If we changed the meaning of words such as "computer" every week, language would lose its ability to convey meaning.
But there is also value in letting language change. Where would we be if we had never combined two words to make database, broadened the meaning of "desktop" to mean both "a computer that is designed to be used on a desk or table" and "an area or window on a computer screen in which small pictures (called icons) are arranged like objects on top of a desk," and added a meaning to "icon" to mean "a small picture on a computer screen that represents a program or function"?
Naming new things is a desirable quality of language. And adding new meanings to existing words can be useful--the old meaning helps inform the new meaning. "Icon" as the word for the little pictures on a computer was probably a better choice, than, oh, say, "cars," or "bleebap."
When a workplace, an industry, or a social group has a new meaning to express, we should allow language to broaden--that is a positive thing. But at the same time, we can't let the existing conventions that keep language a consistent, organized system for clear communication deteriorate, either.
The hard part is telling the difference. Or maybe not.
What if we greet each new locution with a slightly more open mind. (Note that I said slightly.) What if we ask, objectively and fairly, whether the word adds something to the language, enriches culture, increases meaning, or serves a need better than the old words have done. And if it does something positive, let's embrace it. Bring it into the fold. Clean up its spelling, hyphenation, or capitalization a little, and adopt it. And feel good that one source of quality in language is its ability to grow, change, and adapt.
But if we see an unusual usage of a familiar word, and instead of adding meaning, it destroys existing meaning, then we can jump on it, mark it, correct it, maybe even mock it, and take pride in our ability to discern correct from incorrect word use and grammar, as in this example that a friend posted on Facebook yesterday:
I take for granite people's poor grammar. More pacifically, how there always thinking "for all intensive purposes" is supposably correct.
The gaffes being mocked here are clearly mistakes that take language in a negative direction, destroying clarity, ignoring etymology and the dictionary, and generally falling clearly into the category of errors.
But when whole swathes of an industry or field spontaneously sprout a new usage, such as "trainings" or "elearnings," then our non-grammar-stickler colleagues may be onto something.
Many of you weighed in against the use of "trainings," "learnings," and "elearnings."
Daniel Jones reported this: "I live in Switzerland where all my German-speaking colleagues refer to "learnings" all the time. It drives me nuts. Here, "learnings" refers to any training course--classroom, blended, or online."
Anne Bates suggested this: "I have adopted that term training offerings. I previously worked in a department called "Learning Offerings."
Jay Herman, working in a global company, wondered if "trainings" is British English, because many non-native English speakers use it.
Jennifer De Vries asserted that only amateurs with no professional training in our field use "trainings," but she absolutely could not get a salesperson to stop using the term.
Thad Schifsky told me, "There is absolutely no way I will allow an 's' to be added to the word 'training' in any of mydocumentation. I have to draw the line somewhere!"
Laura Gillenwater said, "I want to scream every time someone writes 'trainings.' There is no such word! Is it so difficult to add a noun after it, like 'training classes' or 'training events' or just say 'courses or 'seminars' or 'workshops' instead? And, nowadays, I seem to be seeing it EVERYWHERE! And the same thing is happening with 'e-learnings' -- no such word! Why not just say 'e-learning modules' or, if you are trying to be as succinct as possible, 'e-courses'?"
I don't know, everybody. We are annoyed (with good reason) by this usage. There has been no such word as "trainings." But if we are now seeing it EVERYWHERE, from Switzerland, to global companies, to sales departments, to LMS documentation, then maybe we should take a second look. There must be a need driving this usage.
For example, let's take a look at what Mark Rudden wrote [boldface added]:
This is a constant annoyance for me. I inherited the documentation for a learning management system, and all throughout the online help and even in the UI, the word "trainings" appears. I have tried to get the developers and product managers to change that, but I am told that it's a widely-used industry usage and thus valid.
When I suggested "training courses," I was told that the LMS offers ways to track non-course training, like seminars, book reading, and other learning opportunities, and that calling them training courses is limiting and inaccurate. So in my company, "trainings" can refer to any learning event.
I suggested training events, but was rebuffed.
The fight continues.
Could it be that the product developers and managers have a point? The training field is changing, and maybe our vocabulary needs to widen a little also.
At what point do we stop protesting and allow this shaggy puppy into the house of proper usage? I'm just saying it might be almost time to make sure they hyphenate e-learnings or not, per your house style, and move forward with the tide (or tides?).
Alternatively, we might want to do as Ann Bates suggests and move to "training offerings," to encompass the various types of training that our non-grammarian colleagues are trying to include by saying "trainings."
As word professionals, we are the arbiters of what does and does not get into our language. Instead of just patrolling the fence and always protesting changes to the language, let's make our judgements in both directions. Let's give jargon and new words a fair trial. Let's ask the following: That's not how we currently use that word, but does this new usage add to the language? Does it express something new or a little different so that, in the words of my friend Stephen Kennamer, "we now have a useful differentiation and the ability to discriminate more finely....Language can now do more and do it better"?
And if it does, let's embrace it. And if it does not? Let's go ahead and peeve.
I would love to read your response to this article (as comments below).
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