Let the Barbarians In?


You know those lyrics to the Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds?” Sure you do. The ones, “The girl with colitis goes by…”


Apparently that’s one of the most misheard lyrics. It’s supposed to be, “The girl with kaleidoscope eyes…” But what if so many people got it wrong that we just decided the lyrics should include colitis? Think the Beatles would mind?

That’s how I feel about my beloved English language, which seems to reinvent itself more than some pop stars.

I love writing and curating the precise word to capture an emotion or event. I love the fact that the precision of one’s language separates the educated from the masses who will just fling any old word at a situation.

What I do not love is the fact that there are more word-flingers than word-curators and, with enough flinging, something sticks and a word forever mutates in, of all places, the dictionary. I used to think the dictionary was the Bible for linguaphiles.

Irregardles? It’s in there. Literally, when one actually means “figuratively?” (as in, “I’m literally dying of hunger” when your bulging belly is from your last meal and not malnutrition). It’s in there too.

I am not alone in my discomfort, although language expert and Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker tries to offer comfort in a recent Atlantic article: “There’s probably also a feeling of anxiety when a shared standard appears to be threatened,” Pinker says. “Human cooperation depends on common knowledge of arbitrary norms, which can suddenly unravel. If the norms of language were truly regulated by an authority, this would be a concern. In fact, they emerge by a self-adjusting consensus.”

So, perhaps my problem is just that my consensus is stuck and won’t self-adjust. Maybe. But it feels like the barbarians are at the gate and they are LITERALLY banging to get in.

Would the Beatles let them in?

Maybe. Because once Paul McCartney formed Wings, he told us:

Someone’s knockin’ at the door

Somebody’s ringin’ the bell

Someone’s knockin’ at the door

Somebody’s ringin’ the bell

Do me a favor, open the door and let ’em in

Paul McCartney – Let Em In Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Kaleidescope eyes

3 thoughts on “Let the Barbarians In?

  1. Funny to read this post just now. I just finished watching the PBS special The Roosevelts. One of the things that captured my attention was how beautifully people spoke in that era and how much I love and miss proper English. Not once, did I hear “irregardless” or vernacular language like “dude”:) So I guess my consensus is stuck, too.

  2. Thanks for the link to the Atlantic article!
    “John Dryden peeved at his friend William Walsh’s failure to make “a due distinction between that, and who … That, ought alwayes to signify a thing; who, a person.” (This still peeves me!)
    And I can’t stand irregardless.
    And I really get bent out of shape when folks use “lay” for “lie.”

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