Usage (language)

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The usage of a language is the ways in which its written and spoken variations are routinely employed by its speakers; that is, it refers to "the collective habits of a language's native speakers",[1] as opposed to idealized models of how a language works or (should work) in the abstract. For instance, Fowler characterized usage as "the way in which a word or phrase is normally and correctly used" and as the "points of grammar, syntax, style, and the choice of words."[2]

In the descriptive tradition of language analysis, by way of contrast, "correct" tends to mean functionally adequate for the purposes of the speaker or writer using it, and adequately idiomatic to be accepted by the listener or reader; usage is also, however, a concern for the prescriptive tradition, for which "correctness" is a matter of arbitrating style.[3][4]

Modern dictionaries are not generally prescriptive, but they often include "usage notes" which may describe words as "formal", "informal", "slang", and so on.[5] "Despite occasional usage notes, lexicographers generally disclaim any intent to guide writers and editors on the thorny points of English usage."[1]


According to Jeremy Butterfield, "The first person we know of who made usage refer to language was Daniel Defoe, at the end of the seventeenth century". Defoe proposed the creation of a language society of 36 individuals who would set prescriptive language rules for the approximately six million English speakers.[3]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b University of Chicago (2010). The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 261–262. ISBN 9780199574094.
  2. ^ H. W. Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage
  3. ^ a b Butterfield, Jeremy (2008). Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 137–138. ISBN 9780199574094.
  4. ^ Curzan, Anne (2014). Fixing English: Prescriptivism and Language History. Cambridge UP. ISBN 1107020751.
  5. ^ R. Thomas Berner, "Usage Notes in the Oxford American Dictionary", The Journal of General Education 33:3:239-246 (Fall 1981)