Wednesday, 29 April 2009

And my alright answer is...

In response to this question I posed over the word "alright", my own personal answer is - yes, "alright" is a word, but only in the right way.

Let me explain!

I'm going to draw on a mix of my friend Gary's excellent response (located here if you're viewing this on facebook), some more lines on this random poll I found through Google, and my own observations and opinions.

To write "alright" simply out of ignorance is not an excuse. Also, in the new book, I've only used it in characters' dialogue where they mean "okay"; I wouldn't put it in the narrative (although that's not from whether it's a real word or not, it's just sloppy language, like "nice"). Real people say the word "nice", but authors don't write it. But, used correctly in the right way as all words should be, it is a word.

Here's a post back on that poll which makes a good point:

Matthew - 9th April 2009 01:41
"it's just like writing alwrong...we wouldn't write that, so why would anyone think alright is a word? "
Following that logic, "altogether," "almost," and "already" aren't words.

Rightly or wrongly, "alright" has sprung up as a concept because we already (aha! you see?) have words with the "al-" prefix. It doesn't stick out as being insane. We have many many words in the English language which are hybrids of two ordinary, smaller, separate words - "today", "tomorrow", "yesterday", "beware", "between", "gunshot", there's loads out there.

On the same subject, my good friend Gary makes a broader yet more probing point:

"[Language is] an evolving and developing thing and never stands still. We continually need new words for things. We didn't have words for "television" and "telephone" before needed them. Should they have gone nameless, just because they weren't in the dictionary?"

And this is exactly my conclusion.

"Alright" is already an idea - it means "okay", "not bad", "acceptable". What it certainly doesn't mean is: "Everything is ALL correct! ALL of it!"

Whether it's officially in the dictionary won't change how people mean it.

Language changes. I'm always the first to moan about TXT TLK - it's brought on a massive and rapid reduction in what I'd call basic literacy amongst all sections of the British population, and most likely other countries too. But this is a rapid change. "Alright" has been an idea for decades, if not longer.

As a closing example, think of "lol". You're right, it's not a word! It's the most well-known example of TXT TLK, and even people who use it every day in texts, emails and instant messages would laugh if they heard it used as a real word in spoken language. But if it's already used in casual electronic language today, what's to stop it becoming a word? What if, in a hundred years' time, the majority of everyday people are saying "lol" in everyday conversation?

It would be ridiculous, then, for grey-haired guardians of the dictionary - standing like dusty versions of Gandalf bellowing "You shall not PASS!" - to say it isn't a word.

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