Wayne E. Seguin wrote:
>>
>> It would take a pretty extreme linguistic descriptivist to try to argue
>> otherwise, armed with a complete disregard for much evidence to the
>> contrary.
> 
> Excellent exposition Chad.
> 

I don't disagree 100%, and I suppose you know more about linguistics
than I do, as I know nearly nothing.

But I still think that the multiplicity of meanings or connotations
precedes the split in spelling. I don't deny that certain meanings
may have gravitated toward one spelling and other meanings toward
the other -- but I don't think this is based on etymology so much
as habit, accident, or arbitrary convention.

As an example, "theatre" acquired the variant spelling "theater"
quite some time ago -- I believe (though I may be wrong) that this
was part of Benjamin Franklin's efforts to alter American English
spelling.

So these were simply variant spellings, nothing more. But as often
happens, they coexisted side by side for a long period. (And such
things never really die any more, because you can always pick up
an old enough book and it is still there. And yet it is more of a
continuum than a discrete "living or archaic" distinction, of course.
But I digress.)

Anyhow: In some times and circumstances, people pick an older or
more unfamiliar spelling. Perhaps they are trying to be quaint or
pretentious or formal or whatever. I believe that is how "theatre"
came to be associated with live theater (as in plays) and "theater"
came to be associated with motion pictures. I have had people "correct"
me on this issue. But there is no valid historical basis for this. The
variant spelling did not come about because motion pictures were
invented (nor even *because* they were invented). The variant meanings
were pinned onto the variant spellings at best as a matter of
convenience.

I perceive "daemon" and "demon" the same way. I believe that there have
been countless scholars through history who would have said these were
simply variant spellings. True, the word was used in different ways in
each spelling, and certain meanings may have latched onto certain
spellings. But I do *not* believe that the spellings deviated because
of a change in semantics.

At the risk of being misunderstood or denigrated, I am a bit of a
prescriptivist. I usually distinguish between what a word means and
how it is used. Thus someone snidely comments that in English, a fat
chance and a slim chance are the same thing; so "fat" and "slim" must
be synonyms. But of course, they don't mean the same thing; they are
only *used* to mean the same thing. One is used in a literal way, the
other in an ironic or sarcastic way. They are "used" to mean the same
thing, but their meanings are really different.

In an emergency, I may use the butt of a screwdriver to pound a nail.
But the screwdriver does not then become a hammer (not even if everyone
else also uses it to pound nails).

What I call a "radical prescriptivist" (not me) seems to think that
grammar and usage are like laws of physics, inalienable and unalterable.
I am not so radical. It's fine for languages to change, but I do not
like for ignorance and carelessness to be the primary drivers of such
change.

The "radical descriptivist" on the other hand is like a doctor who is
so obsessed with categorizing and studying a cancerous growth that he
fails to consider it pathological and lets the patient die.

I've had friends who would argue that "imply" and "infer" really mean
the same thing now, since more than 50% of the people don't know the
difference. I say that using "infer" to mean "imply" is simple ignorance
and should be resisted.

I have known many people who think that "between you and I" is a
preferable usage because "it sounds more elegant" or whatever. My
personal opinion on that, which I never really express, is that
ignorance is never elegant.

As for me, I lean toward prescriptivism while recognizing the extreme
objective value of descriptivism. I just think that language change
should occur slowly and with caution, and there should be "standards"
that are not necessarily totally based on the vote of every wagging
tongue.

My $0.01...


Hal