Monday, April 18, 2016

Language and manners

Rules and conventions relating to language and to broader aspects of social life sometimes seem arbitrary and trivial. They may be fairly arbitrary but they are not trivial. In my latest piece at The Electric Agora, Linguistic Prescriptivism and Manners, I look at the difference – and continuities – between descriptive and prescriptive approaches to language and manners generally.

In the latter part of the essay I look specifically at dining customs (including some provocative 'rules of eating' suggested by AA Gill). A commenter made the point that – in contrast to non-human social species – fairly strict eating rules have always been a feature of properly-functioning human communities. We know, for example, that hunter-gatherer societies have been characterized by complex food and eating rules involving order and restraint. Unfortunately rules and restraints related to eating are now in disarray in most Western countries. This matters.