Here is a rather old one (2002, no less) but a classic piece of silliness, and as it’s still there on the Times online website, I think it deserves addressing.
Ann Widdecombe sets out in this article her thesis that the explanation for falling standards of English amongst the young is the disappearance of Latin classes from most secondary schools in the UK. In essence, she is claiming that if you taught Latin to children their English would improve. And it really, really needs to improve because we are currently in a terrifying world,
“ in which linguistic anarchy prevails, where children are no longer taught the function of a verb, much less its precise formation and where bright, enthusiastic graduates produce a jumble of words, randomly punctuated, and call it a letter.”
Even allowing for hyperbole, this is over-egging things. Linguistic anarchy does not prevail, cannot prevail, because human languages are always rule governed. Always. Take the sloppiest person you know, record a few sentences he or she says, write them out and count dozens of phonological, morphological, syntactic, phonotactic and semantic rules therein. Perhaps none of the rules are consciously known, but they are rigidly adhered to nevertheless. (Want to see what linguistic anarchy really looks like? It looks like this: much although seminar very January, sign lunch; taking would and! go bear when premature vanilla. If anyone, graduate or not, wrote that and called it a letter, I’d advise a 999 call because there’s serious brain damage going on.)
Years ago, an otherwise intelligent and sensible man wrote to the leading government minister of the day to complain about the way people were speaking. His particular beef was how they clipped off the ends of words, dooming the English language, he predicted, to a future of ugly monosyllables. He said something should definitely be done about it.
The man’s name was Jonathan Swift, the year was 1712, the minister was Lord Harley. The clipped syllables included the –ed at the end of past tenses, producing such monstrous pronunciations as walk’d and talk’d rather than the correct walk-ed and talk-ed. Others horrors? The use of the word mob rather than its full and beautiful mobile vulgus, and phiz rather than physiognomy.
Harley’s opinion is not recorded. Perhaps he agreed with Swift but was too busy with other things, like the Treaty of Utrecht. And so nothing was done. The abbreviation mob became completely normal, and both phiz and physiognomy turned out to be short-lived slang for face. The past tense morpheme -ed continued to be clipped and pretty soon no-one noticed or cared about it. The English language continued to be perfectly capable of expressing past time, and archaisms such as walk-ed were heard only when, for example, the metre of poetry or music demanded it. ( If you have ever sung The people that walked in darkness from Handel’s Messiah, you will have used the old pronunciation, and maybe found it charmingly archaic.)
However, the strong opinion that English should not be allowed to go its own way has stayed with us over the last three hundred years, with a steady stream of people taking up Swift’s mantle. And so here is Christopher Hitchens in January 2010, complaining about the use of the word like by young people.