Socratic spuriousness…

Dipping into Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, which I’ve been lugging around in my rucksack since I bought it. I couldn’t decide whether to treat it as a reference book or to try to read it straight through. It’s already got me smiling to myself though, with its inclusion of a quote from William Caxton which laments the changes to the English language as he got older:

‘And certaynly our langage now vsed varyeth ferre from that whiche was vsed and spoken whan I was borne’
(And certainly the language now used is very different from that which was used and spoken when I was born).

Considering that he was writing in the 15th century, it seems that those who complain about neologisms entering the OED are just part of a long tradition. I’d assumed that this was all just a reaction to advancing technology and the pace of change in the world.

It put me in mind of a quote from Socrates on the declining manners of children that I’ve come across on several occasions:

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

This seemed to confirm the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and that every generation produces the same disapproval of the one it spawns. Only, in this case, it seems a spurious tale. On looking to confirm the provenance, Bartleby, however, suggests a 20th century origin.

Caxton is real, Socrates (via Plato) it seems is not.

Thank heavens for the internet, by turns the destroyer and saviour of language and culture.

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