NOTHING seems stranger than reading lists of words that once seemed a threat to English: here are a few, taken mostly from Thomas Lounsburys The Standard of Usage in English.

Jonathan Swift in 1710 attacked the continual invention of new and unnecessary words - such as mob, speculactions, operations, preliminaries, embassadors, communication, battalions, bamboozle and banter. All the words survived; other people found them necessary. But that made little difference to the writers who felt that language was in danger: new threats were necessary, new threats were found.

By the end of eighteenth century, James Beattie, a minor poet from Scotland well-known in his day as "the refuter of Hume," was complaining about a new batch of barbarisms: narrate, militate, restrict, capture, inimical, committal, approval, maltreat, noval (as an adjective meaning new.)

In the nineteenth century, Coleridge was attacked by De Quincey, among others for coining the irregular word "unreliable," which should, said De Quincey, properly and grammatically be "unrelyuponable." Coleridge continued to use "unreliable" - though Lounsbury says the struggle over it and its opposite "reliable," extended to his own time (1907) - but regretted that the word talented had got out of the popular press and into polite conversation. "Why not as well say shillinged or penced?" he asked.

George Moore had to struggle with his typesetterand casual acquaintances over his use of the expression "the two first cantos." That's an Irishism, he was told (incorrectly); there can't be two first of anything. You must say "the first tw cantos." Moore replied with equal heat that "the first two cantos" logically implied a "second two cantos" - as if the poem were written with two of everything. Walter Savage Landor insisted that "I had better" was not English, but a mispronunciation of "I'd better" which was a contraction of the logical "I would better." And he convinced Robert Browning to change a passage of "Pippa Passes" to conform to this new (and totally wrong) rule.

Great controversies sprang up as the habit of making ignorant logical corrections of speech spread: one should not say "Tomorrow is Sunday," but "Tomorrow will be Sunday." Since none is a contraction of the Anglo Saxon words for no one, it must take a singular verb: "None is (never are) left." "Greed" was a vulgarism that seemed especially vulgar because it was unnecessary; the perfectly good word "greediness" had always been available. Since the suffix -less could only logically be used with nouns, tireless was a solecism: untiring should be used instead.

In the meantime, other changes in language went unnoticed: in the sixteenth century a useless b was added to lim, num, and crum. A final t was added to original words to make ancient, cormorant, pheasant, tyrant. A cockney h appeared in front of hostage and hermit : and another h in the middle of ghost. An n was inserted into messenger, nightingale and passenger, and into kindred, jaundice and thunder; a g into impregnable. An r was inserted into bridegroom and it is one of the few that anyone every complained about. Noah Webster noted that the word came from briguma - in which guma means man - and printed the word as bridegoom in his Dictionary in 1828. "Such a great corruption or blunder," he wrote, "ought not to remain a reproach to philology."

The history of corrections of popular speech is in itself a reproach to philology, a comedy of errors that is also a comedy of bad manners. Somehow people who would never think of criticizing another person for his taste in clothes, or offensive body odor, or sexual proclivities, feel required to correct other people's grammar - usually as rudely a possible. That doesn't make sense to Lounsbury: if you dislike a particular word, he says, that's a very good reason for not using it; but no reason at all for demanding that others not use it: "There is no harm in a man's limiting his employment of none to the singular verb in his own usage, if he derives any pleasure from that form of linguistic martyrdom. But why should he go about seeking to inflict upon others the misery which owes its origin to his own ignorance?"