The other day I read a letter in a local newspaper criticising another correspondent’s use of English, which referred to Fowler’s Modern English Usage almost as a bible for the language. I believe that this book was first published in 1906, with updated versions issued at various intervals.
The problem with assigning ultimate authority over the language to a single person or body is the assumption that our language does not change when, as an integral element of our life and culture, it evolves alongside us. Language never stands still.
As a copywriter, editor and proofreader, I do not always approve or agree with many aspects of changing usage, but my aim is to achieve use of language that is clear, elegant and appropriate. I do not want my writing to appear Dickensian in the 21st century; I enjoy reading Dickens and other classical authors of our own and earlier civilisations, but that doesn’t mean that I should speak or write like them.
Language is changing for better and worse, and we have to accept this. If we do not like some changes, we can try to remedy or influence them ourselves in our own writing with the aim of persuading others to emulate what we consider to be our own good practice (whether we are right or wrong).
We are fortunate to be blessed with a language that enables us to articulate our thoughts with clarity, beauty and variety. This is more important than any reference book on the language, however useful, and I believe we should always write with these aims in mind.