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Thomas Hardy (recorded by William Archer in Real Conversations, 1904)


A pejorative term in linguistics for a zealous conservatism in regard to the use and development of a language.

A purist is someone who expresses a desire to eliminate certain undesirable features from a language, including grammatical errors, jargon, neologisms, colloquialisms, and words of foreign origin.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "Like other tabooing practices, language purism seeks to constrain the linguistic behaviour of individuals by identifying certain elements in a language as 'bad.' Typically, these are words and word usage that are believed to threaten the identity of the culture in question--what 18th-century grammarians referred to as the 'genius' of the language. Authenticity has two faces: one is the struggle to arrest linguistic change and to protect it from foreign influences. But, as Deborah Cameron claims, the prescriptive endeavours of speakers are more complex and diverse than this. She prefers the expression verbal hygiene over 'prescription' or 'purism' for exactly this reason. According to Cameron, a sense of linguistic values makes verbal hygiene part of every speaker's linguistic competence, as basic to language as vowels and consonants."
    (Keith Allan and Kate Burridge, Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006)

  • "I am of this opinion that our own tung shold be written cleane and pure, unmixt and unmangeled with borowing of other tunges, wherein if we take not heed by tiim, ever borowing and never paying, she shall be fain to keep her house as bankrupt."
    (John Cheke, Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge University­, in a letter to Thomas Hoby, 1561)

  • "A certain Captain Hamilton in 1833 demonstrates the invective the British directed at the language used in America. He claims that his denunciation is 'the natural feeling of an Englishman at finding the language of Shakespeare and Milton thus gratuitously degraded. Unless the present progress of change be arrested by an increase of taste and judgment in the more educated classes, there can be no doubt that, in another century, the dialect of the Americans will become utterly unintelligible to an English man . . ..' Hamilton's vituperation exemplifies a purist view of language, which allows only one fixed, immutable, correct version [and] which sees difference and change as degradation."
    (Heidi Preschler, "Language and Dialect," in Encyclopedia of American Literature, ed. by Steven Serafin. Continuum, 1999)

  • "Despite the exacerbated protests of the upholders of authority and tradition, a living language makes new words as these may be needed; it bestows novel meanings upon old words; it borrows words from foreign tongues; it modifies its usages to gain directness and to achieve speed. Often these novelties are abhorrent; yet they may win acceptance if they approve themselves to the majority. . . .

    "To 'fix' a living language finally is an idle dream, and if it could be brought about it would be a dire calamity."
    (Brander Matthews, "What Is Pure English?" 1921)
Also Known As: language purism, linguistic purism, discourse purism
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