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UD Professor Trying to Make “Flexiptivist” Happen


Why, after its near death in American English, has the word “amongst” experienced an upswing? When and why did “curate” stop being used exclusively to define the process of organizing museum exhibitions and start describing everything from collecting trash to choosing personal-care products? What is a flexiptivist? UD English professor Ben Yagoda explains those issues and more in his new e-book, “You Need to Read This: The Death of the Imperative Mode, the Rise of the American Glottal Stop, the Bizarre Popularity of ‘Amongst,’ and Other Cuckoo Things That Have Happened to the English Language,” available online through Riverhead-Penguin books. Yagoda “curated” the collection from his past columns at slate.com’s Lexicon Valley, chronicle.com’s Lingua Franca—The Chronicle of Higher Education’s online exploration of language and writing in academia—and other sources, partly to educate and entertain, partly to explore e-publishing. “It’s kind of hard to sell a collection,” he says, “so I guess the idea of this e-book genre intrigued me.” Yagoda has written extensively on writing and language. The new e-book organizes short pieces around two themes: trends in language and writing, and what is right and wrong in grammar and word usage. His approach to the latter is to “strike a kind of middle ground” between what is strictly grammatical and what is common practice—in other words, between the prescriptivists and the descriptivists. Hence “flexiptivist,” his word for those who, like him, at times, straddle the line. “I even tried to popularize the word,” Yagoda chuckles, “but it hasn’t really caught on the way I’d hoped.” Here’s hoping it does.