In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Dear National Trust ... | Main | Poster Brilliance »

March 25, 2007

Everyday Every Day

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Yes, yes. Languages evolve.

Some of what was considered ungrammatical in the past is okay today.

Meanings of words change. Back in the 70s or 80s I read an article in The New York Times explaining how "transpired" originally meant nothing like its currently-accepted meaning of "happened."

And yes, yes, I no doubt go along with a number of these nearly-invisible changes (nearly invisible because the changes can take a generation of two to effect).

But there are limits, by gawd. Some changes annoy the hell out of me.

The change that bothers me the most? It's the use of "everyday" when one ought to write "every day."

The word "everyday" means "commonplace," as in the phrase "everyday low prices." And "every day" means, well, just what it says. So when I read sentences such as "He comes home early everyday," I reduce my IQ assessment of the writer by 10 points.

Yes, yes, I know that my English usage ain't perfect either.



posted by Donald at March 25, 2007


In that particular case, it seems like the incorrect usage bothers you more than the acceptance of the word "everyday."

Posted by: claire on March 25, 2007 11:43 PM

In principle I believe "correct" in a language is "whatever native seekers currently say that can be understood by other native speakers".

In reality, however, morons who write "everyday" for "every day" really piss me off.

But here's a thought - look at the rate of change in languages these days. Easily noticeable within a generation or two. Particularly think about the tendency of adolsescents to delberately make up slang incomprehensible to their elders. Yet think what stabilising influences literacy, formal education and mass communications must be. Now think about what it might have been like when there was nothing preserved from more than a generation or two earlier (maybe very rigid oral memorisation/recitation traditions couldbe a big exception here) and most peple never communicated with above a couple of dozen other people in their lives. Now think what this does to linguists' assumptions about the rate of change of languages in the past. Just guessing, but language in pre-literate societies could have been *much* less stable than it is now.

American and British Englsh diverged for practical purposes what, two, three hundred years ago? Very noticeably different. If we hadn't had printing presses all that time, and radio etc. for the last hundred, they could easily have been as far apart as any two Romance languages. I'm not just talking about a few quirks of vocabulary and spelling here, but quite deep and pervasive grammatical things like the striking American tendency to use one simple past tense for everything, without much perfect/imperfect (etc.) distinction.

Indian English too - only half a century, but already has a very distinctive tone of its own that isn't *just* old-fashioned British English wth a sprinkling of Hindi slang. (Read Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games, by the way)

Posted by: Alan Little on March 26, 2007 1:20 AM

The funny thing about linguistic prescriptivism is that prescriptivists are almost always wrong on the facts, even though the facts are usually easy to verify. Case in point: according to the OED "everyday" meaning "of or pertaining to every day, daily" is attested to back to 1647. "Everyday" meaning commonplace or ordinary isn't traced back further than 1763.

Posted by: Joshua Macy on March 26, 2007 6:06 AM

I must admit I'm one of the dummies.
Recently I sent an email with every time squished to everytime in it.
My bad.

Posted by: ricpic on March 26, 2007 8:28 AM

Usage changes may not always be in a bad direction. Ten or 15 years ago it wasn't uncommon to hear people incorrectly use "parameter" to mean a boundary or limit, apparently out of confusion with "perimiter." Today that incorrect usage doesn't seem nearly as common. I've also noticed a decline in the use of certain -ize words (conceptualize, prioritize, and so on) which, while not strictly incorrect, sound stilted and jargon-ish in most contexts.

Posted by: Peter on March 26, 2007 9:28 AM

British journalists are currently convinced that 'begging the question' means 'suggesting a question'. I've heard talk of a statement 'begging several questions'. Is it your understanding that to beg the question means to restate it in the guise of an answer?

Posted by: Mark Brentano on March 26, 2007 9:59 AM

John McWhorter, in his lecture series series about language, confirms what Alan sez-- that languages that have no written component evolve far more quickly than language with writing do. Interesting.

Funny how some developments really irk, isn't it? I generally get a kick out of a lot of language-evolution. But the "begging the question" goof really bugs me. I wonder if there's any explaining why the things that irk do so ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 26, 2007 10:04 AM


I prescribe that '"everyday" meaning "of or pertaining to every day, daily"' is fine. After all, if the OED says so then it's right. As an adjective. However - and "adjectival phrase" is not a term I use every day - "every day" as an adjectival phrase is two words. Which I think is also the usage Donald was referring to.

Posted by: Alan Little on March 26, 2007 1:03 PM


my understanding of "beg the question", which may be entirely wrong, is to give a pseudo-answer that evades the actual question.

Posted by: Alan Little on March 26, 2007 1:06 PM

John McWhorter, in his lecture series series about language, confirms what Alan sez-- that languages that have no written component evolve far more quickly than language with writing do.

I wonder how many languages exist in two forms - one used in written language and another for colloquial spoken use. I know, for one, that Tamil is such a diglossal language. The existence of written language seems to have ossified the written Tamil, but spoken Tamil has evolved to be significantly different. I know that spoken Tamil is different in Sri Lanka and Malaysia compared to what is spoken in India, which implies that language evolution has occurred since the migration of Tamils from India to those places. I would like to know what McWhorter says about such diglossia or its effect on language evolution.

Posted by: JM on March 26, 2007 1:31 PM

Oops. Before somebody out-pedants me: of course I meant "adverbial phrase".

"Everyday low prices" - fine. Adjective qualifying the prices.

"Low prices everyday" - not fine. Adverb qualifying the implied "we have"

Posted by: Alan Little on March 26, 2007 1:35 PM

"Everyday" when "every day" is meant is annoying, but it is only one example of what is now a common tendency to run together associated words, obscuring the distinction between nouns, verbs, and modifiers. "Log in with your password" more often than not is written "login with your password"; many aviation professionals can't understand the difference between the compound verb "take off" and the noun "takeoff."

It's true that there is a long and probably natural tradition to slap together nouns and modifiers that are constantly used together into one word — although I hold the line on "Web site" in my own style, I have no heartburn over "website," which is probably an inevitable development.

But confusing parts of speech is more pernicious. It's treating language carelessly, like a workman sticking the wrong part in an engine because it looks something like the right one. There's also a veiled aggressiveness involved, as if to say, "My message is so important I can't be bothered with silly rules about syntax." The worst consequence, though, is that it clogs the flow of communication. A literate reader who understands the distinctions that the writer doesn't comes to one of these goofs and must correct it mentally while experiencing a moment of irritation. Enough of these stumbling points and the reader starts to concentrate on looking out for the next one, like the next drop in the Chinese water torture, instead of absorbing the content.

Posted by: Rick Darby on March 26, 2007 2:11 PM

I thought begging the question meant giving an evasive answer, no?

Posted by: ricpic on March 26, 2007 3:34 PM

Joshua: Good point.

Donald, Rick:

Did you guys stop to consider words close to "everyday", such as "today" and "yesterday", but also "everywhere", "someplace", or "anyhow"? As adverbials at the end of a verb phrase, commonly no space.

This example is really no thing exceptional what so ever. The spaces in compounds generally go away as the compounds become either more common, less semantically analysable in terms of their parts, or because psychologically similar compounds have lost the space. In this historical process, no one of the above factors is always present. The pattern across the board is usually understandable with hindsight, but still irregular. We see, for example, "fireman", sometimes "firetruck", but never "firehydrant". Why? Length of word? Partly, but we do see "rollercoaster", "straightjacket", etc. In fact, the historical process is pretty complicated, with NOUN+NOUN and ADJECTIVE+NOUN compounds no less than the adverbial compound that presently has undies in a bundle. No big deal! Why should we bemoan the fact that "everyday" is following in the distinguished footsteps of "perhaps" and "maybe"?

Posted by: J. Goard on March 27, 2007 12:52 AM

All -- Thanks for the interesting comments!

I'm in the-movers-are-coming-to-deliver mode, so apologies for light posting and commenting.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on March 27, 2007 9:18 AM

I posted about linguistic snobbery recently. Anyway, the use of "everyday" to mean "every day" is perfectly reasonable and not remotely confusing. The only way someone could know to use "every day" (outside of checking a dictionary) is if they almost always saw it spelled that way or if they had been instructed of the "proper" spelling. So it's more of a popularity contest than a matter of IQ.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on March 27, 2007 9:59 AM

So it's more of a popularity contest than a matter of IQ.

Exactly. Verbal intelligence is indicated by a Verbal sub-score on an IQ test, a similar score on the SAT / GRE, Miller Analogies Test, etc. Spelling, not surprisingly, is one of the least g-loaded tasks -- that's why even low-IQ people can easily become literate if they're taught properly. That's the one area where Head Start has had substantial and permanent effects, not in raising IQ or anything like that.

I don't mind changes that introduce no ambiguity or distort the original meaning -- so "everyday" is fine whatever it's used for. I don't care that a space has been bridged since there's no possible confusion. According to, "some time" is not the proper adverbial phrase; rather, it is "sometime," without a space, as in "I'll visit Venice sometime." But the adjective "sometime" is also written without a space, as in "He was a sometime student of linguistics; his main focus was in art." If the space ellision is fine here, then so for "every day" becoming "everyday."

I do mind changes that signal unjustifiable arrogance, like using "begging the question" to mean raising a question (original meaning: to assume the conclusion to be proved). Ditto for the across-the-board use of subject pronouns, as if only peons used object pronouns (e.g., "Between you and I..." or "she invited Tom and I to the party").

Posted by: Agnostic on March 27, 2007 12:25 PM

I agree with your last paragraph above, Agnostic, only wishing to add that my problem with the new use of "begging the question" (as just one example among many) is not merely that it's changed, but that the new meaning is so much less sophisticated cognitively, so you end up with a fancy word doing no heavy lifting, and most people will never fully internalize the more complex (but universally important!) concept.

To a lesser degree, I have a problem with complex adjectives like "fantastic", "magnificent", "outstanding", "terrific", "awesome", and about 40 more, widely used as glittery ways to say "very good". I have no such problem with contemporary "sick" or "tight", since the standard meanings are simple concepts and hardly likely to be lost or weakened by a slang extension.

Posted by: J. Goard on March 27, 2007 7:14 PM

J. Goard

One that irks me, and is I suspect not just a US-Brit thing, is "aggressively" to mean "actively and enegetically" - "we're aggressively addressing your problem, sir".

But, but ... I didn't want you to be hostile and physically violent towards me; and being hostile and physically violent towards my problem probably wo't help much either. Aggression is not a good thing in most circumstances.

Posted by: Alan Little on March 28, 2007 12:27 AM

MBlowhard defined "begs the question" in earlier post, which clarified it for me. You "beg the question" when you presume something to be true which is debatable. You present something as a fact which is not established fact. As he stated, if you wonder about how to best advertise this excellent blog, you "beg the question" of whether it is actually an excellent blog. It is the thing skipped over without being proven.

In PR, I've also heard it called "not accepting the premise." If you ask someone "Was it your incompetence which got you fired?", you beg the question of whether the person is even incompetent. The question seems to take for granted that you are incompetent, and simply wonders if that specifically is what got you fired.

Posted by: annette on April 2, 2007 3:30 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?