Friday, December 6, 2013

Your challenge today: Define "the."

by Derek Spencer

Some of our simplest words turn out to be rather difficult to explain. In this article from The Week, Arika Okrent gets at just why the word "the" resists succinct definition:

Personally, I favor the descriptive approach to English usage over the prescriptive approach, so I quite like this quotation from the article:

"We like to think of words as little containers of meaning that we pack and unpack as we communicate, but they are not containers so much as pointers. They point us toward a body of experience and knowledge, to conversations we have had and things we have read, to places in sentences where we have and haven't seen them. Words get their meanings from what we do with them."

Language is continually evolving. We invent dozens if not hundreds of new words each year to fit our needs in a rapidly changing world. Playing with language is not only an absolute blast, it's a communal process, one in which we all take part.

And that's beautiful.