Thursday, February 18, 2010

Healthy vs. Healthful

Healthy Choice package edited to read Healthful Choice
I know I appear to be a grammar curmudgeon, but I'm really not a prescriptivist. While I insist on placing apostrophes where they're needed and omitting them where they're not, I can think of many other verbal variances that don't bother me in the least, even though they would drive a stickler bonkers.

One example is the use of healthy instead of healthful when describing a food or behavior. Each time I am directed by a proofreader to correct one into the other, I ignore it, based solely on my sense that it makes the text sound like an English teacher from 1957.

Well, it turns out my instinct was correct. Gabe Doyle, a graduate student in linguistics who writes the blog Motivated Grammar, recently said that the use of healthy in this type of usage dates back to 1552, while the insistence on healthful as the only correct usage comes from an 1881 book by a prescriptivist named Afred Ayers. As Doyle writes,

So unless you think Ayres knows something about English that no else does, you can safely ignore his broad-cloth assertion. It’s fine to use healthy to mean “promoting good health”, and the prescribed restriction is poppycock.

Now I have a better reason for my behavior than just instinct. Thanks, Gabe!

1 comment:

Ms Sparrow said...

I also gave up my mental objections to healthy vs. healthful. Healthy has overtaken Healthful so successfully that there's no turning back, and besides, it rolls off the tongue easier.