Can descriptivism and prescriptivism coexist?

Another post on traditional grammar rules and common usage. (Check our reposts of Stan Carey’s post on Twitter’s “Who to follow” and the Economist piece titled “Whom do you trust?”) Are you a descriptivist or a prescriptivist? Do we even have to take sides?

Motivated Grammar

The terms descriptivism and prescriptivism get thrown around a lot, and it seems most everyone says one of the words with a sort of dripping scorn that wouldn’t be out of place on the word “Communist” in the Army-McCarthy hearings. For many people, the difference between the two is black and white: one is the right philosophy and the other the wrong one. One improves language and the other ruins it.

There are a precious few who are able to avoid this facile good-vs-evil characterization, but they are a minority. I think many of you readers fall into this category, although I can’t say I always live up to your example myself.

The problem’s only exacerbated by the fact that even those who haven’t genericized these terms don’t necessarily agree on their boundaries. For some descriptivists, anyone who corrects any error is a prescriptivist. For some prescriptivists, updating a dictionary

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