I think human beings are caught in a never-ending cycle between descriptivism and prescriptivism.
We work hard to observe the things that happen around us, attempt to capture them, codify them, repeat them.
And then we become students of history (at best) or animals of rote (at worst) who follow recipes that promise success.
And then we tire of the charade and discard our formulae to observe the world anew.
It often helps me to recognize when I’m prescribing solutions and instead take a step back to describe what I’m trying to do. On the other hand, if I get stuck trying to describe a phenomemon, I try to look for existing prescriptions. This is a useful exercise in perspective.
This post was inspired by a tweet by a dictionary:
@smarick then you’re talking to the wrong dictionary—we’re descriptivists. We follow language, language doesn’t follow us 😁— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) July 2, 2016