Authority and American Usage: Part 1 “Authority and American Usage” written by David Foster Wallace, poses an argument about the English language, and the different beliefs of its usage. This essay was written in defense of Bryan A. Garner’s, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. His argument in “Authority and American Usage” is the difference the between prescriptivism perception and the descriptivism perception (Linguistic terms that could easily be made into smaller, more understandable words for people like me).
Since the beginning of time, language has evolved. From biblical times, to Shakespearean times, to present day; the English language has been continuously changing since it’s birth and has no intentions on stopping. There’s a reason why the English language is called the “borrowing language”; taking foreign words, and different dialects and twisting turning them until they find themselves in the latest version of the English dictionary. Prescriptivism argues the bias opinion on how some people think the English language should be used.
It would make sense for people to use completely proper grammar, but that’s not how language has ever worked, right? These unwavering hard heads are the grammar Nazis, the annoying boys or girls in your classes that seem to always have the politically correct answer (class kiss-asses), or as Davis Foster Wallace would refer to, the SNOOTS. In my opinion, these SOB’s go head to head with the realistic people of the world; the descriptivists. Descriptivists are more realistic in the way they think language operates.
These people tend observe and take note on how language is used, rather than focus on how it should be used. Language is a natural thing that changes everyday; new words are invented, and old ones are discarded. Descriptvists tend to keep up with and pay attention to the ever-changing American usage of the English language. Descriptivists study mad references, loads of irony, and a redonkulous amount of slang, all to gain a better understanding of the American usage of the English language.
Wallace’s argument uses a ton of rhetorical strategies to make his point of view more understandable and believable for his readers, which was sneakily manipulative on his part (Bravo, Wallace). This strategy is good for kids who don’t know what to think when they read long, confusing essays like this, such as myself. Through his use of rhetoric, he gives his readers the chance to use their imagination on what Wallace is trying to get across. This was smart in more ways than one.
It causes less conflict among the color-blind and the spectrum-seeing people, and it gave him the chance to appeal to a wider range of people. The grey areas were covered when he told us stories about how his opinions formed, which made him a trustable and relatable author; something every author should strive for. When you really get in depth with what Wallace is trying to say, you notice something. Under the stories, BS, and extremely long words, the S. S. Wallace (Like a boat) sails you to a point in time while reading essay where you realize… Wallace is the sneakiest snoot of them all.
Although, yes, he does reveal himself to be a snoot, he does such an amazing job by taking the spotlight off of himself and giving it to one of many people he’s mentioned in his essay, his past experiences that he mentions in his footnotes, and one key person being Bryan A. Garner, author of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. “Garner is an interesting guy. He’s both a lawyer and a usage expert (which seems a little bit like being both a narcotics wholesaler and a DEA agent)… This Garner is one serious and very hard-core SNOOT. This passage takes the attention away from Wallace, and also explains that Garner revealed the ‘correct’ way of usage without being a pompous ass or ‘snooty’ about it. This makes Wallace an evil genius; revealing that he is in fact, the slyest snoot of all. Another aspect that Wallace goes in depth with is our current writing system. He describes how currently, our education system is leaning more toward a descriptive type of writing style, rather than the traditional and formal prescriptive writing style.
Language changes so often that even the way teachers are expecting their student to write are different from that of 20 years ago. Ross 4 “Authority and American Usage,” an interesting essay written by the brilliant and quick-witted David Foster Wallace, presents an argument on different ways of understanding the ever-changing American usage in the English language. Keeping up with the English language in America is like chasing your new, untrained puppy down the street. Tiring and basically impossible to get a hold of.
Over the past centuries, the English language has evolved so much, that if you took a person from the 13th century and threw them in the middle of New York City in 2013, it would be as if two different languages were being spoken. Wallace’s essay is a pretty intriguing, considering half of us really don’t wonder “Hmm, what’s the proper way to say ___? ” or “Shouldn’t she use __ instead of __ in that sentence? ” or “who said that ___ was the proper way of saying this? ” Freaking grammar Nazis. But it gets you thinking about the way American usage of the English language how it should be interpreted, and how it is interpreted.
So many past generations including ours, have totally altered the way we speak in our everyday life. Wallace explains these two types of people as “prescriptivists” and “descriptivists. ” Prescriptivists believe in the way things should be said, and descriptivists believe in the way things are said. Personally, I’m a descriptivist. I use slang words all the time, nothing like “ratchet hoe,” “cake poppin’” or “aggy,” but I shorten words, use them incorrectly in ways like “I literally just died” and I swear.
A lot. One thing I don’t understand about the prescriptivists; why are you going against the flow? You’re going to Ross 5 lose the battle on this one because who is really going to enforce the prim and proper way to say stuff? No one. American language changes all the time. In reality, prescriptivists are the hipsters of American usage in the English language and descriptivists are mainstream. Wallace also takes the time out of his essay to comically call out the prescrptivists, also known as the SNOOTS . “… Are just about the last remaining kind of truly elitist nerd. ” I found this hysterical because when you really take an understanding to his essay, you find out that he’s totally the biggest snoot you’ll ever meet, but he’s super sneaky about it. He admits it in the essay, but he’s very subtle about it. He draws the attention to his past experiences and the author of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, Bryan A. Garner, that he calls the biggest snooty snoot there is, and attempts to completely take the spotlight off of himself.
He’s literally a genius. Reading “Authority and American Usage,” by David Foster Wallace was both exciting and very challenging. After having to sift through all of the big words, the long paragraphs and extensive footnotes, I’ve come to a better understanding of both sides of Wallace’s argument; the argument between prescriptive grammar and descriptive linguistics. Overall, Wallace explained both sides of his argument in great detail; the choice is left up to the reader to decide what they believe about our ever-changing language.