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The New (Pro)Vocative

by Bryon Moyer

May 07, 2012 at 12:18 PM

OK, going off script here a bit…

English has been much simplified over the years as compared to its long-ago forebears. Yeah, it’s complicated in its irregularity, but structurally, we’ve lost, among other things, the many cases that other languages use to decline their nouns. Those of you that learned German know of the nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive. But there are many other cases in different languages.

One of them is the vocative case. This is used when addressing someone directly. Given two sentences, “Bob will go to the races today,” and “Bob, go to the races today,” the “Bobs” might look different since, in the second sentence, you’re addressing him directly, and so you would use the vocative case.

Well, we seem to have a new vocative in English. Ever notice in emails and forums? When people address each other? They no longer use just the name: now they use “@” plus the name.

Why? Do they really think the person won’t notice their name without the @ sign? Really? Of course not. We’ve survived for centuries using English without the @ sign before names. No, that’s not it. Let’s face it: Twitter came along, and, ever eager to be viewed as early adopters that will jump on anything that might be cool, people have leveraged the @ syntax (which was intended for computer use, not human use, so the system knew where to direct the message) far beyond Twitter.

This brings out the cantankerous in me: it’s just silly. My name is “Bryon”, not “@Bryon.” Are we going to get to the point where Mom or Dad runs out the door at dinnertime to holler, “At Billy, time for dinner!”? (Well, that’s assuming we still let our kids outside to play without constant supervision against the threats that loom everywhere…) Of course not. Or, at least, I sure hope not.

Sorry to be a party pooper, just had to call BS on this one…

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