I just ran across Language Is the People’s, subtitled “Notes from the copy editor.” Dan is “a full-time quality assurance technician (read: proofreader) based in St. Paul, Minnesota” who has also worked as a copy editor, and his Manifesto plants its flag in the very middle ground I try to inhabit:
I’ve found that even if you’re in a position where you have to enforce arbitrary rules like the AP styleguide’s preference for adviser over advisor, there’s no harm in knowing that language prescriptions like those in your usage guide are neither magic nor objectively “correct.”
This knowledge can even help you to be less arrogant. There’s no reason to look down on a writer for using which in a way which you wouldn’t, especially when you find out that many other people have the same correctness conditions as that writer. You might recast a sentence with that sort of which in order to fit with internal style rules or promote clarity or satisfy the language cranks in your audience, but all that’s about making writing better, not about right vs. wrong.
There’s also no reason to — as I often did in the past — stop a conversation to enforce a language “rule” when what the speaker said was completely intelligible to you. The latent classism in pointing out that “ain’t isn’t a word,” or the fact that, yes it is, aren’t the point. The point is that you are the people, the language is working for you, and if you didn’t have some WTF reaction to how the speaker is talking, then there’s no reason to bring Strunk and White into this. As they say, or should.
Lest we forget: Language belongs to the people.
Amen, and if people would worry less about whether language is “correct” and more about whether it’s used well, the world would be a better place. (Dan has an interesting discussion of “descriptivism” as bogeyman and as reality here.)