Yes, I’m a former English teacher, and I tend to be a stickler about word choice, phrasing, and grammar. I’m not ridiculous, though. If you want to split your infinitives, I really couldn’t care less. If you say you could care less when you really couldn’t care less, then I’ll get irritated.
But I don’t mind when people say Kleenex to mean tissue or Xerox to mean photocopy. After all, when someone asks for Kleenex and gets a Walgreens tissue, she usually won’t complain, as long as she can blow or wipe her nose. Likewise, someone asking for you to Xerox a paper really just wants a copy made. If you make a copy on a Canon instead, she is highly unlikely to grill you, “I said Xerox. Are you sure you used a Xerox to make this copy? You didn’t sneak over to the Canon copier?”
Language, after all, is about consensus about meaning. If someone says Kleenex, and we all understand it to mean tissue, then there isn’t a problem. Sometimes, though, there are problems with consensus. In some parts of America, carbonated beverages are referred to as cokes. Coke is coke. Dr. Pepper is coke. Pepsi is coke. In other parts of the country, they’re referred to as pop, soda, or soft drinks. In England, they’re called fizzy drinks. Eventually, somehow, we come to understand each other with regard to those yummy caffeine sugar cans.
Then there is the whole Mac and PC thing.
With Apple’s recent “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” campaign, now more than ever rich people are asking whether they should buy a Mac or a PC. Of course, some snarky Windows users will counter that Macs are PCs, since PC originally stood for personal computer. Unfortunately, now, PC means Windows PC, and they need to recognize that change. I recognize it, and I say it’s unfortunate because it leaves alternative operating systems (say, Linux-based ones) out of the question completely.
So when people say “PCs have problems with viruses and spyware,” I do have to correct them and say, “You mean Windows PCs.” If Macs and Windows PCs were the only personal computers out there, I’d be fine with them equating PC with Windows PC, but a non-Kleenex will soak up your mucus the same as a Kleenex will; a Windows PC is a completely different experience from a Linux PC, though. We Linux users may be few, but we exist, and the English language should reflect that existence. After all, we have words in the English language people don’t even use (for examples, watch the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C.).