Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Wordy Rant

The word "campus" used to mean the grounds of a school, college, or university.  In recent years "campus" is used to refer to the grounds of a church or hospital or office complex, too, which annoys my overly word-sensitive brain.  It's hard enough for us to understand each other under the best of circumstances.  Why do we keep muddying the language?

I've been told by some, "Language evolves.  Get over it."  But it seems to me that there's a fine line between evolution and corruption.  Just when did the corruption of the word "campus" begin?  I heaved Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary off the shelf.  I purchased it for occasions like this.  I was shocked to find that "campus" does not appear in this dictionary.  Wait.  Surely I just overlooked it.  Sit tight.  I'm going to check again. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- No.  It's just not there - unless the order of the alphabet has been changed since 1828.  (Maybe it has been, the way we tinker with the language.)  At any rate, the last word listed that begins with "camp" is "campion" - which, by the way, means "A plant, the popular name of the lychnis" - at least that's what it meant in 1828, but I digress.

The latest, up-to-date online dictionary says that "campus" refers to the grounds of a school, college, or university in its first definition.  Below that, it gives this definition - "grounds that resemble a campus."  So in our modern world, it appears that "resembling" and "being" are now interchangeable.  I object.  Sometimes I resemble a donkey, but I am not one.

I started to wonder just exactly when the word "campus" became corrupted.  How did we go from "campus" not appearing in the dictionary at all to it referring to the grounds of an educational institution to it referring to the grounds of just about anything?  How did this happen?  I searched the house for old dictionaries that were more recent that 1828.  After all, I'm old, the house is old, there must be several old dictionaries around here.  Then I remembered that a few years ago - when they cut the ribbon to the information highway - I got rid of a lot of old reference books.  Who needs reference books when you have the internet at your fingertips?

I finally put my hands on a 1993 dictionary that escaped the purge and found that even then anything that resembled a campus was a campus - so the corruption set in before 1993.  After doing some online googling, I found that "campus" was first used in America in the 1700s to refer to the grounds of a school, college, or university - period.  Nothing said about grounds that just resemble a campus.  But it couldn't have been in very wide useage or Noah would have put it in his 1828 dictionary.  According to internet sources, it was sometime in the 1900s that the definition expanded to include anything that resembles a campus.

You might be interest to know that "campus" comes from a Latin word that means "field."  Thanks to modern word-abusers, it now means just about any piece of ground.  If you'll excuse me, I've got to go now.  There's some weeding to be done on the Landry campus (i.e. the back yard).