It is the role of modern lexicographers, according to Brewster, to track these changes—to wade through a near-infinite pool of formal and informal discourse, and, in the process, differentiate fleeting trends from substantive shifts in usage. Whether these shifts are annoying or welcomed is inconsequential—once they reach critical mass, ubiquity eclipses controversy. “What was once shunned and disparaged,” she says, “has a good chance of joining the ranks of the unremarkable.”
As a prime example, Brewster points to the word “negotiate.” In the early-20th century, journalists and orienteers began using the term as a verb meaning “to successfully travel along or over.” Grammar pedants took great umbrage at this usage and soon brought their fight to the mainstream media. A writer’s use of negotiate in a 1904 edition of The Saturday Review inspired one critic to fire off a letter to the editor. “Surely no purpose ornamental or useful can be served by this unwarranted extension of the sense of a familiar word,” he sassed. “Do the spoilers of English negotiate the English dictionary?” Despite similar complaints elsewhere, the new sense rapidly gained currency and eventually clawed its way into acceptance.