Alfred Ayres

Over on his blog Motivated Grammar (subtitled Prescriptivism Must Die!), Gabe Doyle attacks the idea that healthy is incorrect with the meaning ‘promoting good health, healthful’. Where does this come from? Gabe:

MWDEU says that the whole notion that something’s wrong with that usage can be traced back to 1881, when a fellow named Alfred Ayers declared it so in a book called The Verbalist. (Google Books has the 1909 edition online.) The trouble with Ayres’s declaration is that it spit in the face of at least 330 years of usage; the OED’s first citation for healthy, in 1552, defines the two words identically, and both meanings for healthy are attested all the way up to Ayres’s book’s publication.

… Both meanings have been attested for 450 years, and the claim against the latter was an unjustified assertion from 1881 by a prescriptivist otherwise lost to the sands of history.

I objected to “a prescriptivist otherwise lost to the sands of history”. As I said a few years ago in a note on complaints about blame it on, Ayres was,

with Richard Grant White, one of the great American grammar/usage ranters of the 19th century.

Language Log had two postings on blame it on someone (versus blame someone for it), both mentioning Ayres: this one and an earlier one here. Plus a posting on objections to people ‘persons’, with Ayres as a prominent objector. As you can tell, he had something of a talent for picking the losing side in these usage disputes.

2 Responses to “Alfred Ayres”

  1. mollymooly Says:

    I think “healthful” is obsolescent in British English. I guess Ayers didn’t sell well abroad.

  2. The meaning(s) of “anticipate” « Motivated Grammar Says:

    […] Dictionary of English Usage finds this claim first made in 1881 by Alfred Ayers, who was something of a giant in the world of 19th century grammaticasters. Ayers justified his claim through Latin etymology, […]

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