How words change

I just read a blurb from Studs Terkel containing two examples of language change. The blurb is:

?….uncannily captures the thoughts and hopes, inchoate though they be, of America.?

The word “inchoate? means in a beginning state. But it is often used in the sense of “confused’. Two factors, IMHO, lead to this: the similarity in sound to “incoherent? and the simple fact that things in a beginning state are often confused and confusing. We may bewail the loss of this original sense of “inchoate,? but it will be interesting to watch it over the next few decades.

The next item is the subjunctive “be? instead of the expected “may be? or “are’. We have gradually dropped the use of the subjunctive after words like “if? and “though’. In the first page of The Federalist Papers, Number One, Introduction, the phrase “If there be…? appears, but in the same sentence we have the archaic (now) usage, “we are arrived,? derived from the Germanic tendency to use “be? as a helping verb with verbs of “change of state? as in “Christ is come? and “Christ is risen? where now we would use “have/has’.

So we have to be careful in charting language change through writing that we are not seeing purposefull archaisms. Studs Terkel may have been using “be? as he does in normal conversation or he may have just been reading material from the 18th c. and unconsciously replicated what he read.

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