WORDS matter, on that I trust we can agree.

After all, in the beginning was the word which, if nothing else, put the need to name things at the heart of our being. A world without words is not only unimaginable; it is ludicrous for, without them, we might be swinging from branch to branch like chimpanzees, scratching our armpits and communicating in grunts. What, I've often times wondered, would that be like? Imagine, say, a novel written by a chimpanzee called Charles Dickens. What kind of book at bedtime would it make?

Some words, however much we need them, are under threat. One such, as readers of our sister paper, the Sunday Herald, are only too well aware is anent, which a couple of years ago the Church of Scotland decreed was no longer useful and should be dumped, like an old banger for which it is impossible to find spare parts. Incensed by the brutal dictatorship of a so-called Christian organisation, I set up the Anent Preservation Society and within a matter of days had countless god-forsaken souls clammering to join it.

Needless to say, the Kirk has remained obdurate and anent appears destined to go the way of all flesh. Is it any wonder that its membership is declining faster than you can fry an egg? For, whereas in the past people who cared about words and their meaning kept themselves to themselves, we are now becoming increasingly militant. True, you will see few of us demonstrating in public or twittering dementedly but one detects a growing sense of disquiet, of incipient revolution. We are no longer, it seems, content to mutter darkly under our breath.

Anent which, I must congratulate Jeremy Butterfield, editor of the latest edition of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. To wordsmiths such as myself, Fowler's is akin to the Koran or the Bible. Rarely a day goes by without me dipping into it. I like to open it at random and, no matter how stressed I feel, I find its sage advice calming and reassuring. Where else, for instance, can one learn that fraenum is "a fold of mucous membrane or skin, esp. under the tongue" or that 'hoi polloi" ought not to be prefaced with the definite article "the"?

Mr Butterfield is concerned, as all right-thinking people surely are, that standards are declining and that lexicographically speaking, humankind is going to hell in a handcart. He has designated words such as awesome, challenging and issue as cliches and rails against the overuse of like, as in "you know what I mean, like". Some people, he says, are unable to construct a sentence without using like as, indeed, some hereabouts cannot speak without employing a four-letter word beginning with "f" to articulate their thoughts.

Doubtless there are those who will dismiss Mr Butterfield and me as pedants. So be it. Indeed, there are nights when I cannot get to sleep for worrying over the proper use of that and which. Like my old friend, Keith Waterhouse, I can no more allow a renegade apostrophe go unremarked than I can leave litter lying in the street. Watching television, I have been known to hurl a quiche as if it were a discus at a football pundit who is banging on about the amount of goals a striker has scored. I am similarly driven to distraction by the wanton misuse of less and fewer.

Moreover, engrained on my brain is the phrase "omit needless words!", though I concede the exclamation mark may be unnecessary. Like William Strunk Jr and EB White, co-authors of The Elements of Style, which every American school kid must memorise before they can walk, I get the shakes when I read sentences that begin: "The truth is ..." or: "The fact is ... ". As Strunk and White say: "If you feel you are possessed of the truth, or of a fact, simply state it. Do not give it advance billing."

What is this but common sense? But this is not a commodity of which there is at present a superabundance. Thanks to the internet and its attendant evils we are becoming thicker by the minute. Not only can the latest generation not parse a sentence; they don't know what parse means. Of course, it could be one of those words, like anent, that is destined for the funeral pyre.

It is in good company. In his latest book, Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane bemoans the disappearance from the Oxford Junior Dictionary of words from the natural world that are supposedly no longer "relevant" to children. Instead, they have blog, chatroom and MP3 player. "Nine out of 10 children can identify a Dalek," bemoans Macfarlane, "three out of 10 a magpie." Yes, things really are that bad.