The Dangers Of Semantic Complacency…

Complacency in and of itself is a dangerous thing.  It’s also an easy trap to fall into.  You develop a comfort for what is and become resistant to what isn’t.  Even if what isn’t makes more sense than what is.

But, what is semantic complacency?  This is when we take the language for what it is without stopping to question what sort of idiocy made it like this.  For example, here are some self-possessive pronouns:

  • Myself
  • Herself
  • Yourself

Following that pattern, what comes next?  Obviously, hisself, theirselves, and itsself.  But, no.  That’s not the way my dictionary tells me it goes.  To figure why this happened, you need look no further than chav slang.  They say, “meself.”  Well, it seems that poor grammar has caused “himself” to enter vernacular.  Or so logic dictates.  Of course, don’t tell a grammar professor this.  They’re so resistant to change, you’ll be kicked out of the office.

The English language is filled with grammatical mishaps such as this.  Sometimes, it’s more in the context.  For example:

“May I speak to Jim.”

“This is he.”

I can’t blame someone for saying this, because that’s the way they’re taught to say it in school, but this is grammatically incorrect.  Let’s diagram this sentence.  It’s easy, because it only has three words, so let’s get to it.

This – This is the subject of the sentence.  This is the noun that is doing something.

Is – This is the verb.  This is what the subject is doing.  And, it’s transitive because…

He – Is the predicate.  It’s what “This” is being.  Except that it’s the subject form of the male pronoun.  It should be him.  “This is him” would be the grammatically correct version of this sentence.  Don’t just take your English teacher’s word for something.  Apply your working knowledge of the language and change it where it seems prudent to do so.

Aside from words being changed to what shouldn’t be words and grammar ending up acceptably incorrect, there are certain expressions that don’t make sense.  And I’m not referring to expressions like, “She’s built like a brick shithouse,” that are clearly entirely idiomatic and not intended to have any basis in literal reality.

I’m talking about commonly vernacular expressions that people never stop and think about what they’re saying before they say them.  For example:

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Well, what exactly did you offer the person thanking you?  You said he was welcome.  Welcome to what?  Welcome to simply the favour you just did for him?  Welcome to all future favours?  Welcome to come over to your home at any time?  You didn’t think about it before you said it, did you?  People who respond with, “No problem,” actually thought about it.  People who say, “Any time,” thought even less.

And, these are just simple examples.  It’s likely that, throughout the course of your day, if you pay attention, you will find countless more complex examples of semantic complacency.  It’s your duty to point them out when you find them, and question why it is we say what we say.

Or, you can just get caught in a trap where it seems everything you say is scripted.

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