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Do You Suffer From the Recency Delusion?

Lots of work today, but I wanted to post a quick note on the first of three interesting terms I came across yesterday as I searched for the proper term to describe the (not) new meaning for “hopefully.” All three terms describe mistakes I have probably made, and continue to make, on this blog.

The first was coined by Language Log poster and Stanford linguistics professor Arnold Zwicky. It’s called the recency illusion:

the belief that things you have noticed only recently are in fact recent

When “hopefully” came into more frequent usage in the 1960s, there was a lot of muttering about those halcyon days when grammar had still been good. While this use of “hopefully” as a sentence adverb became more prevalent in the 1960s, it was nothing new: my pal Peter Andrews at the ol’ M-W dates popular usage back to at least the 1930s. So much for the good old days pre-language change.

So if you think that today’s whippersnappers have only just started substituting “their” for “they’re,” you’ve got another think coming. I’ll be on the lookout for more recency illusions–mine and others–from now on.

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