The other day, I was exhilarated to find a book in my mailbox that my son had sent. He and his sister have unusual talents for finding gifts that are perfect in their taste and subject matter. This was no exception and the book was written by the former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. From the first page, it was captivating and full of information that inspired me.
Within those first pages, I was surprised to find that the author used at least two words that I have deleted from my vocabulary – amongst and towards. While I understand that the British vocabulary frequently includes towards instead of toward, I find it to be a word that I prefer not to use. The same is true for amongst – I much prefer among and believed it to be the preferred version.
The dictionary that I use most often confirms that my choices are preferred and that in both cases, British English opts for the words that I don’t. But as I read and look forward to reading more, I had a flash of illumination that the English language isn’t one of right and wrong.
Those who know me also know that I am the one who reacts to “him and me went to the store” as if I were dealt 110 volts to the spine. In this one case and probably many others, we can legitimately posit correct and incorrect. Along those lines, I also believe that there is importance to good spelling, diction and tense. But beyond that, I realized through this editor that pronunciation and word selection aren’t subject to analysis and evaluation, mine or anyone else’s. If you want to pronounce “coyote” as ky-oh-tee while I pronounce it as ky-oat, neither of us should be subject to correction.
Nowhere have I been designated as the ultimate authority or ruling body as far as most issues concerning the English language. This exercise in amongst, towards and coyote have sufficiently driven that point home to me. If you ask me to correct your writing for whatever reason, that’s another story. But for now, help yourself to the words you want to use. Shalom.