I am inclined to baulk at the gradual transition in the meaning of words such as "disinterest" and the slow decline in the general English-speaking population's understanding of the difference between "less" and "fewer". However, I try hard to remember that it is the English language's adaptability and pliancy that is one of its greatest strengths.
It was in the spirit of cultivating my tolerance for modern usage that my eye was caught by this passage in a book I picked up by a writer called William Zinsser:
'I’m far less preoccupied than I once was with individual words and their picturesque roots and origins and with the various fights over which new ones should be admitted into the language. Those are mere skirmishes at the edge of the battlefield; I will no longer man the ramparts to hurl back such barbarians as “hopefully.”'
What kept my attention was what followed, which strikes me as important:
'What does preoccupy me is the plain declarative sentence. How have we managed to hide it from so much of the population? Far too many Americans are prevented from doing useful work because they never learned to express themselves. Contrary to general belief, writing isn’t something that only “writers” do; writing is a basic skill for getting through life. Yet most American adults are terrified of the prospect—ask a middle-aged engineer to write a report and you’ll see something close to panic. Writing, however, isn’t a special language that belongs to English teachers and a few other sensitive souls who have a “gift for words.” Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly should be able to write clearly—about any subject at all.'
I encounter so many people who cannot write a clear sentence, and I worry that Zinsser is right - that their inability to write clearly is evidence of an inability to think clearly. In a democracy, especially one where voting is compulsory, that is a worrying thing*.
(The two passages are from: "Writing to Learn: How to Write - and Think - Clearly About Any Subject at All" by William Zinsser, which contains a delightful account of how Zinsser earned his university degree after an interview with Dean Robert K Root at Princeton - or, if your perspective is more contemporary, a disgusting account of white privilege in all its horror.)
*I have never forgotten the conversation I witnessed the day before the Australian federal election in 2010. It took place in a petrol station. One of the protagonists was a girl who manned the till in the petrol station. The other was a long distance truck driver who had just filled up his gigantic vehicle with loads and loads of fuel:
Yes, that's right - a petrol station attendant and a truck driver were proposing to vote for the Greens.
Australia is the only country that has compulsory voting, and I totally support the concept - compulsory voting, that is, not us being the only country that has it. What I wonder about occasionally though is universal suffrage.