“Prescriptivism” is a linguistic term describing a fixed, snooty, conservative view toward language. Linguistic prescriptivists are people who tell us exactly how a language should be properly spoken or written. Prescriptivism is sneaky — it is often an unnoticed attitude which which fool us for common sense.
Perhaps the prescriptivist’s attitude is due to their wrong-view of language, or perhaps it is due to their snooty personality: the prescriptivist simply has a personality type that chooses prescriptivism to support their controlling habits. After all, our philosophical, theological and political positions are often formed to comfort our temperaments and preferences. We tell ourselves that we have thought through our positions, but often our positions are merely created for us by our minds. Then, our minds trick us, to think we intentionally chose those positions.
I see two types of language prescriptivists:
1. Grammar prescriptivists: who tell us how we should talk or write: how we link our words and make our sentences. They deride any violation what they feel are sacred grammar rules. They want to enforce their rules and freeze changes in our language’s grammar.
2. Definitions prescriptivists: who tell use exactly what a word means and decry any emerging uses.
But “prescriptivism” displays itself in similar forms in many realms outside of language. These two types can be seen in these other areas:
1. Those who tell us what is the right religion or the right theology — what religion we should believe.
2. Those who tell us exactly what it means to be a true Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Jew or Hindu …
1. Those who tell us what political positions are the only intelligent, compassionate, moral or rational — what political position we must follow.
2. Those who tell us exactly what political terms must mean.
1. Those who want to legislate their personal moral preferences.
2. Those who want to tell us how moral terms must be used and defined.
Of course a wishy-washy indecisive world would have a whole set of its own undesirable traits. So prescriptions are often helpful — sometimes we need to persuade others or be persuaded. Heck, society is a complex compromise of persuasion games. But it is useful to know when we are prescribing or being prescribed to. We need to be aware that behind rhetoric is temperaments and desires — and then choose if we agree, but not be tricked by the rhetoric.
See my other posts of Prescriptivism and Prescriptivists:
- Religious Prescriptivists
- Buddhist Contradictions
- Illusions of Stability: Printing Press and Dictionaries
- False Generalizations about Religion
- Defining Poetry
- What is a Real Atheist?
- Who is a Christian?
- For Pedant Word Nazis (Stephen Fry video)
Pic credit: Polyp.org.uk