When I graduate, I’ll probably be busing tables — if I’m lucky. In fact, I think that’s my goal right now. I could be optimistic and look at graduate schools, but after my performances on my recent exams, I somehow doubt that will happen. But I don’t know what else to do with a degree in English.

I suppose I still have time to change my major to something more marketable — the trouble is that I don’t want to. There is something about the English language that I have fallen in love with. It’s just the way words sound and feel and the natural rhythms they form that are just exquisite.

But ignore my nerdgasm.

Then again, don’t ignore it yet. You see, English is compiled of words just like that one: “nerdgasm.” Old English, a Germanic language, would take two words and combine them naturally — words like “werewolf” are good examples. Modern English does the same — “nerdgasm” takes two words and combines their effects to establish a new meaning. It is a functioning word of the English language, and operates under principles similar to those of our parent language.

But where is the dictionary entry for “nerdgasm,” or a million other words like it? Too many language purists would criticize its entry into a dictionary. But it’s a word, and it has a definition. A dictionary — if nothing else — should serve as a reference point for the most current uses of language. Slang or not, words should be recognized. Language needs to be recognized for all it can do.

I never really understood why my teachers said, “‘Ain’t’ ain’t a word, because it ain’t in the dictionary.” To begin, the statement is itself a paradox. My teachers always emphasized “ain’t” when they parroted that phrase, but in turn, they emphasized the meaning of the “ain’t.” Aren’t words merely units of sounds or letters that carry meaning?

With all that said, I looked it up. “Ain’t” is in some dictionaries.

For some reason though, we deride its use as improper. But if language was always used properly, how did Latin and Germanic languages become so different? Language, by its very nature, adapts and changes with time. It must. Our first grade teachers had their causality backwards. The dictionary doesn’t make words, people do. All you need to be able to do is express yourself and communicate effectively with others.

We blanket “ain’t” and “nerdgasm” under the same title. We call them slang, and somehow that makes them inferior words. You shouldn’t use them in a paper, certainly. But why not? What makes words inferior to other words? If I said to you, “I ain’t tired,” would you understand that any differently than if I said, “I’m not tired?” Denotatively, they’re precisely the same.

There are widespread words that have known definitions that aren’t recognized as having entered the English language. Even the Oxford English Dictionary falls short on “ain’t,” giving it no formal definition, in spite of the fact that it has been used since at least the 18th century.

That’s not to say that this can be applied to all words used by anyone. If I decided that a hijjippo was a flying circus clown with a nose shaped like a grape who only wore teal jumpsuits, I don’t think I could use that in any setting and be understood, unless I initially defined it for the intended audience. Nor do I think hijjippoo (the plural of hijjippo, naturally) are particularly significant to any sort of discourse.

So I dedicate this column to the English language purists: Don’t diminish the breadth of our language’s capability. From creative use of prepositions to the split infinitive, these are things that our language can do that very few others can. If I want “to boldly go,” why should my professor demand that I say instead “to go boldly,” or “boldly to go?” The rhythm of the infamous Star Trek split infinitive is vastly more fun than the technically “proper” alternatives.

If you can communicate effectively, then you can communicate how you please. I don’t need the Grammar Police — the Big Brother of English — telling me how to say what I want. If I have to say it one way over another then the value of what I’m saying — the significance that I am saying it and no one else — is lost. I won’t have my words taken from me. Like the poet, I will fight with the pen, for the pen, and for the right to use the pen as I see fit — even if I’m only a busboy.

Eric Szkarlat can be reached at eszkarla@umich.edu.

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