Daily Archives: August 27, 2021

The first one gets to choose

It was the combination of the Humanist movement/turning away from Latin for literature and the invention of moveable type & the mechanized screw-pressure printing press that made these books available to regular shmoes. Faster production = more books = books are less expensive. Gutenberg’s Bible was less expensive but it didn’t make him rich because so few people could read and also understand Latin—but people sure would learn to read when books were printed in their own language.

Those first vernacular writers set the tone for their languages’ usage. Chaucer, Mallory, Dante and Luther had huge influence in shaping modern English, Italian and German simply because they were the first to write in those languages. They made choices about spelling and grammar and syntax (how words are used in a sentence) that became standard. Written language is more or less permanent and it gets scrutinized way more than spoken language. In spoken language we let small mistakes pass without bothering too much about it. Make a grammatical mistake on a printed page? That’s a problem. Even on social media—which sets a low bar for spelling & grammar—you notice when a writer doesn’t understand how his language works.


Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.