The recency illusion is the belief or impression that a word or language usage is of recent origin when it is long-established.
However, use of the term is not restricted to linguistic phenomena: Zwicky has defined it simply as, "the belief that things you have noticed only recently are in fact recent".
Linguistic items prone to the Recency Illusion include:
- "Singular they": the use of they, them, or their to reference a singular antecedent without specific gender, as in someone said they liked the play. Although this usage is often cited as a modern invention, it is quite old. The usage is found, for example, in Shakespeare.
- The phrase between you and I (rather than between you and me), often viewed today as a hypercorrection, which could also be found occasionally in Early Modern English.
- The intensifier really as in it was a really wonderful experience, and the moderating adverb pretty as in it was a pretty exciting experience: many people have the impression that these usages are somewhat slang-like, and have developed relatively recently. They go back to at least the 18th century, and are commonly found in the works and letters of such writers as Benjamin Franklin.
- "Aks" as a production of African American English only. Use of "aks" in place of "ask" dates back to the 1600s and Middle English, though typically in this context spelled "ax".
- Rickford, John R.; Wasow, Thomas; Zwicky, Arnold (2007). "Intensive and quotative all: something new, something old". American Speech 82 (1): 3–31. doi:10.1215/00031283-2007-001.
- Zwicky, Arnold (7 August 2005). "Just between Dr. Language and I". Language Log. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
- Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. Merriam Webster. 1989.
- Shakespeare, William (1594). "Act IV, Scene 3". The Comedy of Errors.
There's not a man I meet but doth salute me / As if I were their well-acquainted friend
- Lippi-Green, Rosina (1997). English with an Accent: Language, Ideology, and Discrimination in the United States (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN 9780415559102.
- Zwicky, Arnold (17 November 2007). "The word: Recency illusion". New Scientist 196 (2630): 60. (subscription required)
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