Arguments over style, grammar or punctuation may well make appeals to precedent. This is a good thing if the precedent is recent, since in such cases, it shows current, or at least recent, use.
When the precedent takes the form: this was first used in 1640 (or almost any other date 100 or more years ago), I describe it as distant precedent.
Distant precedent often sounds very authoritative, and many people accept it as settling an argument. This is bizarre. Grammar and (especially) syntax and punctuation can vary enormously over time; it is entirely possible for a form to go in and out of acceptable use over a period of centuries. What matters, therefore, is what is acceptable use ''today''. (see [[less vs fewer]]).
Distant precendent becomes valid only when ''continuous use'' can be shown from the distant precedent to the present. This is a strong justification, but still doesn't trump the [[ultimate rule]].
Post a Comment