An Alternative View on Alternate & Alternative

An American friend, skulking in the shadows and too afraid to show her face on here, has quickly pointed out to me that in the 18th century, when America was still part of the British Empire (before Mel Gibson came along and sorted it all out) certain obscure dictionaries showed alternate and alternative as being synonymous. My measured response is that this is all lies and pure American propaganda, probably forged after the event by Mel himself.

Although I grudgingly admit it’s a valid point that some ‘Americanisms’ were once common in England, that’s not the whole story. At that time spelling etc was pretty much a free-for-all and you could make it up as you went along. It was quite rightly decided that with the printed word rapidly becoming more widespread, in the interests of clarity some sort of standardisation was needed. We decided that words like colour and honour, which we had nicked from the French (presumably because they had no need for them) should logically be spelt the French way, and so forth. So saying that “gotten” (with its archaic, stray Anglo-Saxon word ending which I think was also used for plurals such as “mannen” instead of “men”) and “alternate/alternative” can be justified in British English is like saying we men should still wear breeches and silk stockings because they did in the 1600s. We moved on! We improved! We standardised the language in a way that seemed logical at the time, and we stopped wearing breeches and stockings because they looked pretty silly.

All stand for the national anthem

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About ramblesofawriter

Writer, thinker, tea drinker.
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