TIME Crime

5 Shocking Things I Learned as an Outlaw Biker

Infiltrating 3 of the biggest outlaw motorcycle clubs was dangerous — but what surprised me was what happened on the inside

I spent years infiltrating multiple gangs as an investigator for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and eventually wrote a book on my experience: Vagos, Mongols, and Outlaws: My Infiltration of America’s Deadliest Biker Gangs. There are many things that might shock you about this particular type of gang life, even after you watched news of the Waco biker shootings, but here are five surprising facts of that dangerous life.

1. Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs) are anything but rebel nonconformists. To the contrary, they follow a strict military rank-and-file structure, implement an earned-patch system, vote in “officers” and insist their members wear uniforms (“cuts”).

2. OMGs are highly skilled warmongers; killing can be a purpose and mission. They meet regularly in so-called “Church” to plot, share intelligence, discuss surveillance of rival gangs and study their enemy combatants. They learn details, such as where their rivals live, work and play. And they can be methodical killers.

3. They understand protocol, and respect and adhere to strict rules and regulations within their own club — yet many of them cannot function outside these structures as civilized members of society.

4. Many members of outlaw motorcycle gangs are former and active military personnel and have been reported on both U.S. and international military installations. This legitimacy helps them facilitate criminal activity such as weapons and drug trafficking, or to receive weapons and combat training that they can then introduce to their gangs.

5. The deplorable treatment of women by OMGs is well documented, but why women willingly subject themselves to such abuse by these gangs is even more disturbing. A select few proudly wear their “Property Of” shirts while so-called “pass-arounds” willingly submit to sex acts by multiple members. Within each gang is a female hierarchy (not modeled after the military). Women are first “sheep,” then “Mamas” and finally “Ole Ladies.”

Charles Falco infiltrated outlaw motorcycle gangs as an undercover agent.

TIME Executives

Here’s What’s on Bill Gates’ Summer Reading List

Bill Gates
John Keatley/Redux—John Keatley/Redux Founder and Chairman of Microsoft Bill Gates holding a copy of Business Adventures by John Brooks.

The world's richest man just assigned the world some summer homework

The richest man in the world still makes time to squeeze in a good book now and then.

Bill Gates—he of the $79 billion net worth, per Forbes—released his annual summer reading list on Tuesday. In between running one of the world’s largest charities and serving as technological advisor to the company he co-founded, Microsoft [fortune-stock symbol=”MSFT”], Gates has made a habit in recent years of letting the world know what he’s reading.

Gates unveiled his new 7-book summer reading list in a post titled “Beach Reading (and more)” on his personal blog, Gates Notes. Included in this year’s list is The Magic of Reality, by Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. There’s also On Immunity, by Eula Biss, which fits in well with one of the goals of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by tackling the issue of childhood vaccinations.

The billionaire techie also noted that he’s trying to lighten the mood a little bit this year. “This year I tried to pick a few more things that are on the lighter side. Each of these books made me think or laugh or, in some cases, do both,” Gates wrote in the blog post.

In that vein, Gates includes a book adapted from Allie Brosh’s popular comic blog, Hyperbole and a Half, which Gates calls “funny and smart as hell.” Another item with a more graphic option is Randall Munroe’s XKCD, which draws from Munroe’s webcomic of the same name, which features a lot of mathematical and scientific humor. “It’s that kind of humor, which not everybody loves, but I do,” Gates writes.

The rest of the books Gates recommends reading this summer are: What If?, also by Munroe; How to Lie With Statistics, by Darrell Huff; and, Should We Eat Meat?, by Vaclav Smil.

TIME Religion

Losing My Religion: America’s ‘Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome’

Reba Riley is the author of the forthcoming Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing.

I’d been given a religion that was built like a Jenga tower—when I took a few blocks out, it all tumbled to the ground

When I read the Pew Research Center’s report on America’s changing religious landscape, I don’t see statistics. I see Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome.

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome

[n. pohst-truhmat-ik church sin-drohm]

  1. A condition of spiritual injury that occurs as a result of religion, faith, and/or the leaving, losing, or breaking thereof
  2. The vile, noxious, icky, and otherwise foul aftermath of said spiritual injury
  3. A serious term intended to aid serious spiritual healing—without tak­ing itself too seriously in the process

Where the data shows five million fewer Protestants, three million fewer Catholics, and nineteen million more “nones” who do not identity with any religion, I see Sarah the bartender who isn’t allowed to love Jesus because she loves women, Sam who adores the new Pope but hates the things the church has done in the name of Jesus, and David the minister who just can’t believe in hell.

I see thousands of stories of brokenness. I see the millions of people who crash into religion when they go looking for God. I see people so tired of being spiritually bruised that they give up on faith altogether.

And I ought to know: I used to be one of them.

The first time I wrote down the term “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” was sometime in the early 2000s. It didn’t matter that the phrase was written in blue eyeliner on the back of a cocktail napkin or that much wine was involved. In vino veritas!

Strung together, the four little words framed pain I couldn’t express, said what I couldn’t. They identified the reason I couldn’t pray, or darken the door of a church, or say the word “God.”

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome was the reason I was a “none.”

People who leave or are left by their faith lose a lot more than a place to go on Sunday morning. They lose relationships with family and friends, social status, tribal approval, self-esteem. They lose their God, their identity, their certainty, their gravity. I know because I lost all those things.

I left my faith and ministry training program in my early twenties after my questions became much bigger than the answers provided by my evangelical subculture. Or maybe it is more truthful to say, my faith left me. I’d been given a religion that was built like a Jenga tower—when I took a few blocks out, it all tumbled to the ground, destroying me in the wake of the fall.

I am not an isolated case. I know this because once I started writing about “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome,” many people had the same reaction I did. “That’s me,” they responded, telling story after story, in person and via email, of the same struggle, the same yearning to have faith of their own without being bound by dogma.

I didn’t know that naming “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” was the first step on a very long journey of spiritual recovery. I didn’t know that I’d spend the majority of my twenties rebuilding my life without God (and doing a pretty good job, I might add), right up until I became very ill, or that my illness would force me to face PTCS after nearly a decade of avoidance. I didn’t know that I’d face it the most reasonable way a really sick person could: visiting thirty religions before my thirtieth birthday. And I sure as hell didn’t know I would chronicle my experiences in a book by the same name, or that the journey would transform me from a person who couldn’t even talk about faith to a person whose life work is talking about faith.

I only knew that when I first said “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” the words clicked—a key in the lock of my injured spirit. I knew that when I talked about it with others I found out I wasn’t alone. I knew it was a place to start.

PTCS is real, pervasive, and quite possibly one of the reasons why the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points since 2007. It’s part of the “why” behind the “what” of Pew’s findings, but, as my experience shows, it can be much more than that. Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome is a place to begin a conversation about the reality of spiritual injury and the many, many paths to healing.

Reba Riley is the author of the forthcoming Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

Dadbod, Mombod and Our Pretty Bad Bod Prob

Brittany Gibbons writes at Brittany. Herself. and is the author of the new book Fat Girl Walking: Sex, Food, Love, and Being Comfortable in Your Skin…Every Inch of It.

Is it possible that one male body type could help us appreciate all women?

Many female body acceptance movements have made headlines over the past few years, my own included–“What I Learned About Life While Standing in the Middle of Times Square in My Bathing Suit was my TED Talk. Women owning their bodies in bikinis or showing off the scars of motherhood have been met with a mixed reaction of praise and disgust.

Then, Dadbod came on to the scene with an unexpectedly high level of enthusiasm and acceptance. What’s not to love about the friendly, approachable dadbod and his easygoing lifestyle? The dadbod isn’t caught up in endless hours at the gym or crazy diets. He is just happy to spend time doing the things he loves, wearing the same jeans he wore in college. The downside to dadbod, however, is the glaring double standard.

Seth Rogen could plausibly knock up Katherine Heigl on film, but if Rebel Wilson had a cinematic one-night stand with Ryan Gosling, the script would probably call for them to raise the baby together as friends until her kindness and personality eventually eclipsed her BMI or she got the gastric sleeve. The dadbod is a perfectly acceptable and attractive body standard, but it’s available to only one gender. Spoiler alert, ladies: not ours.

Women aren’t afforded the luxury of something attractively, lovingly nicknamed mombod, even though we’re the ones who actually carry and birth the babies. While dadbod is a transitional step in the male aging process, mombod should be a temporary stop on the road back to pre-mombod. Our sexiness comes not from the evolution of our breasts and curves, but in our ability to erase the fact that any of it happened in the first place.

To society, mombod has given up. She eats cold leftovers from her children’s plates and prefers yoga pants for comfort because she’s lazy, not because she’s run out of hours in the day or frustrated dressing a body completely foreign to herself.

But mombod should be appreciated for what it represents.

She is selfless. Mombod isn’t born from a complete disregard for physical fitness or dietary need, mombod puts others before herself. First, offering up her own body to grow and nurture another human being, and then sidelining her own immediate needs to care for those around her.

She is compassionate. There is nothing more humbling than to be cast as a failure or unattractive boil on the face of society. Mombod is used to being told she isn’t good enough, so as a result, she is empathetic to those struggling with beauty and confidence around her.

She is uncommon. Every mombod is a virtual unicorn in terms of shape and size. Each new fold and curve specific to only her and her experiences. While this may not lend itself to clothes shopping, it makes loving a mombod a singular, one-in-a-million experience.

She is driven. Balancing motherhood with anything else is nearly impossible. Work, home, and everything in between is a feat of sheer determination while also balancing a family. She may not have time to spend every free moment at the gym. Or, maybe she does and you shouldn’t make assumptions about people based on their weight.

She wears her love on her sleeve, literally. Mombod’s scars and curves read like a scrapbook of her life. Moments she displayed superhuman strength or endured unparalleled pain are forever etched across her thin skin. Looking at her shouldn’t make you cringe, but instead, genuflect.

She is beautiful. Mombod’s beauty isn’t limited to her perseverance or familiarity, it comes from simply being a woman.

So, should we welcome the acceptance of dadbod as a possible solution to the body hate epidemic facing girls and women in this country? Maybe. As the rise of the average man takes over, perhaps his appreciation and acceptance of the average woman will follow suit. That would be a monumental evolution in body acceptance.

Brittany Gibbons writes at Brittany. Herself. and is the author of the new book Fat Girl Walking: Sex, Food, Love, and Being Comfortable in Your Skin…Every Inch of It.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

The Necessity of Marginalia in the Age of the Ebook

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Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

"Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself"

Francis Bacon once remarked “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

Reading and writing often go hand in hand. Reading is not a passive skill but rather an active one.

One of the ways we chew and digest what we’re reading is to comment on something someone else has written. We do this through Marginalia — the broken fragments of thought that appear scribbled in the margins of books. These fragments help us connect ideas, translate jargon, and spur critical thinking. (One notable downside though, giving away books becomes harder because often these fragments are intimate arrows into my thinking.)

In the world of ebooks the future of marginalia and reading looks different. With electronic reading devices, the ease of inserting these thought fragments has diminished. I have Kindle and while I’m trying to use it more, there are issues. By the time I’ve highlighted a section, clicked on make a note, and laboured intensively at the keyboard, I’ve often lost the very thought I was trying to capture. (Ebooks, however, make certain things easier, like searching.)

This excerpt from How to Read a Book, written in the 40s, captures the necessity of marginalia to reading.

When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them. But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book. Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it— which comes to the same thing— is by writing in it.

Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake— not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active , is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.

Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.

Follow your curiosity to the pleasures of reading in an age of distraction, how to read a book, and a process for taking notes while reading.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

Vince Gilligan, Matthew Weiner and More Hollywood Leaders Share Their Favourite Books

Check out Hollywood’s library

Thirty-five industry heavyweights name their favorite reads and explain their picks. From classics like The Great Gatsby to buzzy new novels like The Girl on the Train (and even a YA trilogy), check out Hollywood’s library.


This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.

More from The Hollywood Reporter:

TIME Parenting

All In is Lean In for Dads

Josh Levs' book is a call to arms for working dads

Men should lean in just as much as women—they should just do it in a different direction.

That’s the gist of Josh Levs’ All In, a manifesto of work and life for men that aims to be for working fathers what Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was to working mothers: a cogent analysis of the systemic problems in work culture that make it so difficult to be a parent. Levs says he consulted with Sandberg while he was writing the book.

Josh Levs is a CNN reporter who made headlines in 2013 when he filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Time Warner because he said their paid leave policy discriminated against biological dads. At the time, Time Warner offered 10 weeks of paid leave to biological mothers, and to parents of both genders who adopted or had a child through surrogacy, but biological fathers only got two weeks. Levs challenged this rule and won, and went on to become an advocate for better workplace policies for dads as well as moms.

Levs’ central argument is that American culture—especially American workplace culture—doesn’t allow parents of either gender to spend enough time with their children. There’s been a lot of discussion about how tricky that problem is for women, but few have dug deep into what it means for men. “There’s this basic mentality about what men and women are that has held back our policies,” he says. “Our structure is based on the assumption the woman will stay home and men will work, so why would you need paid maternity leave? The women will stay home! Why would you need paternity leave? They’ll work!”

Clearly, that assumptions aren’t true anymore, but Levs argues that workplace policies have not kept up with the changing times. “Our policies didn’t grow up, our policies are stuck in the past,” he says.

The book is a “call to action,” Levs says, not only for long-demanded workplace policies like paid maternity leave, but also for widespread paternity leave and greater flexibility for all working parents. He repeatedly notes that the United States is one of the only nations in the world without paid maternity leave, and that many other industrialized nations have paternity leave on top of that.

Changing American workplace policies isn’t just a question of accommodating parents, its a question of looking out for children, Levs argues. He says that paid leave shouldn’t be considered a luxury—he says it’s no different from “absolute basics” like public schools or medical care for kids. “Another absolute basic is making sure what when a child leaves the womb, its parents, or one of its parents at least, hopefully both, have time to stay home and not hand the child over to strangers and rush back to work,” he says.

“That’s not left or right, that’s not a battle over taxes, its just doing what’s right for kids,” he says. “And whats right for a society’s kids is always best for a society.”

Levs isn’t just calling for better workplace policies, he’s also asking men—and women—to re-examine what it means to be a dad. He argues that the antiquated expectations of a worker-bee dad and a stay-at-home mom have left modern fathers feeling shut out at home in the way some mothers feel shut out at work, even as fathers are increasingly aware of the importance of active parenthood. That’s creating an identity crisis for the American dad. “We are carving out a new role for fathers in America,” he says. “That’s a challenge and an opportunity. There are opportunities that men have now that our fathers didn’t have. So that gives us a chance to define a new meaning of manliness.”

“We’re all in this together, pushing forward for a new meaning for fatherhood.”

TIME Books

Marvel Reveals Identity of Female Thor

The cover of Thor #8
Marvel Comics The cover of Thor #8

Not who you think. Unless it's exactly who you think

While Marvel Studios’ Avengers have been tearing up the big screen, Marvel Comics’ Avengers have been getting a facelift. That’s especially true of Thor, the Asgardian God of Thunder—who became a Goddess of Thunder late last year in a rebooted Thor #1. To be clear, Thor was replaced by a woman, and the first seven issues of the new series kept that woman’s actual identity a mystery.

But on Wednesday, Marvel will reveal the new Thor’s secret identity in Thor #8. And thanks to the New York Times, we already know what that secret identity is. SPOILER ALERT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THAT IDENTITY!

It turns out that the new Thor is a longtime Thor supporting character: Jane Foster, who originally appeared way back in 1962, as the nurse sidekick/love interest to Dr. Donald Blake, originally Thor’s alter ego. The character has appeared sporadically since the ’70s. At some point in the comics continuity, she became a doctor. She achieved more prominence in the Thor films, where Natalie Portman incarnated Jane as the thunder god’s astrophysicist love interest.

More recently, Jane reappeared in Thor, diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy treatments. It will be interesting to see what role her health plays in her superhero-ing. Thor writer Jason Aaron tells the Times, “The very act of picking up this hammer, of becoming Thor, is killing her,” which sounds vaguely Spawn-like. (Remember Spawn? Is that a thing people still talk about?)

Fingers crossed, this means Natalie Portman dons a blonde wig and a horned mask-helmet in Thor: Ragnarok.

This article originally appeared on EW.com.

TIME Books

Here’s How Anna Kendrick Is Writing Her Book of Essays

Anna Kendrick
Joel Ryan—Invision Anna Kendrick at the screening of Pitch Perfect 2 in London.

The actress gives TIME a peek into her writing process

If you’re one of the nearly four million people who follow Anna Kendrick on Twitter, you already know she’s as funny with her writing as she is in movies like Pitch Perfect, whose sequel hits theaters May 15. But with a recently announced book of essays due next year, Kendrick says she’s a little daunted by the jump from 140-character musings to hundreds of pages.

“Obviously I’m hoping to find my own voice, but having never written anything before, I’m not really sure what to expect,” she says of joining Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling and the club of other comedic actresses with essay collections under their belts. “But it’s going to be fun. Part of me is like, ‘Yeah! I’m writing a book… if I can.’ Is that something I can do? I’ll find out.”

Kendrick’s writing process is decidedly new-school — you won’t find the Oscar-nominated actress sitting down at her computer to hammer out chapters in their entirety. “I’ve got like notes all over my phone in different places, different apps,” she tells TIME. “I got my Stickies on my Mac, and I’ve got seven different Word documents that I just keep adding stuff to. I’ve got Post-it notes everywhere, so I’m hoping that when I get the chance to sit down and look at it all together, it’ll add up to something.”

As for the material she’ll cover, Kendrick says she’s letting the topics choose her instead of the other way around. “If I was trying to do it like, ‘What are my thoughts on men?’ I would be like, ‘I don’t know! I don’t have thoughts on men!'” she says. “I just keep remembering stupid things that happened to me when I was younger and many, many stupid things that happened to me recently. [I’m] trying to write them down and see if it comes out more funny—or more tragic.”

Read next: Anna Kendrick on Making Pitch Perfect 3: “I’m Not One to Count My Chickens”

TIME Education

Noah Webster Would Have Loved Urban Dictionary

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

The founding father of American English was a radical who wanted us to write the language the way we spoke it

In the late 18th century, as the recently independent states were working to define what America was—after fighting with England about what it wasn’t—grammar books were still teaching American children to speak like proper Englishmen and women. The books taught such formal, outdated usages as the correct verb forms for thou (thou goest, thou wilt) and proper uses of shall (used with I and we for simple future, with you, he, she, and they to imply insistence or a threat). They spelled words like flavour, musick, and centre the British way. They also introduced some new restrictions on the language, such as banning prepositions at the end of a sentence, in favor of phrases like, To whom did she speak. And they insisted on using subject pronouns after forms of the verb to be—It is I, It was she.

The approach of the English—and therefore Americans at the time—was to model their tongue after Latin, a high-status language typically taught only to boys attending elite private schools. The study of Latin, besides being required for admission to the universities, was considered excellent mental training. Unfortunately, Latin and English aren’t a good fit—their structures are very different. Forcing English into a Latin template led to sentences that felt artificial.

Noah Webster, in many ways the father of American English, rejected these rules. A true revolutionary, Webster thought Americans should break free from the old country, take charge of their language, and build a new standard from the ground up—one that reflected the way most of his countrymen actually talked. Like others who participated in the new country’s founding, he took the democratic ideal seriously. “As an independent nation,” he declared in his 1789 book Dissertations on the English Language, “our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government.”

As a linguist and former librarian, I had long pictured Webster as the stuffy 19th-century figure who gave his name to the ponderous dictionary displayed on a stand in the library. But, as I delved into his story for my book Founding Grammars, I realized that Webster was a visionary—even a radical—so far ahead of his time, in fact, that grammar and style guides are only now catching up with him.

Webster was born in West Hartford, Connecticut in 1758 to parents whose families could be traced back to the Plymouth Colony. As a student at Yale, Webster participated only briefly in the Revolution. In 1777, he marched with other West Hartford men, including his father and brother, to join the fighting at Saratoga, New York. Although they arrived after the battle was over, the experience stayed with Webster all his life. He could never speak of the American victory in later years without being moved to tears.

“For America in her infancy to adopt the present maxims of the old world would be to stamp the wrinkle of decrepit age upon the bloom of youth,” he wrote in Dissertations. Instead, he believed, this new nation needed a new language, to be used uniformly across the United States to cement new national bonds. Grammar books of the time were doing “much more hurt than good,” he complained. “The authors have labored to prove, what is obviously absurd, viz. that our language is not made right, and … have tried to make it over again, and persuade the English to speak by Latin rules, or by arbitrary rules of their own.”

He therefore proposed that American English ought to be based on the natural rules of the language and “the general practice of the nation.” In other words, if everyone said it, it ought to be standard. And he set about writing books and essays, and eventually creating dictionaries, in defense of his approach. The first volume of his three-volume grammar and spelling series for schoolchildren, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, appeared in 1784. In 1806, he published an early version of his dictionary—the first to feature American English—and followed up in 1828 with the groundbreaking American Dictionary of the English Language, which included 12,000 American words never before recorded.

Webster championed the use of more natural grammar, as in It is me and Who did she speak to? He embraced new words like electioneer and snack, repurposed old words like congress, and included slang like ain’t. And he introduced many new, simplified spellings, including dropping the u in words like favor and the k in words like music, and changing re to er in words like center.

Some reviewers criticized his new dictionary for including “low, coarse” Americanisms. Writing to his brother-in-law, Webster asked, “What is the difference, in point of authenticity, between respectable American usage and respectable English usage?” Clearly, he thought the answer was “none”—to him, they were equally legitimate if they were in daily use.

Webster did have some biases: For example, he was prejudiced in favor of his native New England dialect, which he thought had fewer faults than speech from other parts of the country. He did frown upon a few New England pronunciations that he considered nonstandard: For instance, he noted that the region’s “yeoman” class pronounced er like ar in words such as mercy. He was nonetheless one of the few language scholars of his day to recognize that linguistic diversity and evolving usages are natural.

Webster also occasionally pushed usages and spellings that most people thought were eccentric. For example, he fought a long, losing battle to make you a singular subject—trying to make saying you was standard. It was marginally acceptable in the early 19th century, but became less so over time. He also proposed extreme spellings, such as wimmen for women and tung for tongue, that never caught on.

Over the years, Webster’s political views grew more conservative. He was friendlier toward the mother country and less impressed with his fellow citizens than he had been in the patriotic fervor of his youth. He strongly disapproved of the folksy backwoods politician Andrew Jackson, elected as the first “people’s president.” Webster’s experiences with local and national politics persuaded him that Americans were better off governed by more patrician leaders, such as John Quincy Adams. In spite of his changed political outlook, however, he remained staunchly committed to the ingenuity and progress of American speech, including American word inventions and the common people’s grammar.

Webster would surely be pleased to know that modern Americans are beginning to come around to his grammatical pronouncements. Among others, Patricia T. O’Conner, author of Woe Is I, is in favor of using me and other object pronouns after to be. Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage, says that the rule against sentence-final prepositions is “spurious.” Voicing a sentiment that Webster would no doubt heartily approve, Garner admonishes, “Latin grammar should never straitjacket English grammar.”

Webster’s flexible attitudes would fit right into today’s world of language professionals, who post new words and phrases online and hold grammar forums on their blogs. From the intrepid word collectors of the American Dialect Society, who recently voted the hashtag #blacklivesmatter their word of the year, to the new generation of editors at the Associated Press Stylebook, who now approve of hopefully to mean “it is hoped,” it seems that the guardians of our lexicon are embracing language change these days.

And anyone can make contributions. We can all submit a new slang word or phrase to Urban Dictionary, along with our own definition, and anyone else can vote it up or down. At last count, selfie had 64 definitions, with the top vote-getter garnering over 7,000 thumbs-up. Regular folks like Peaches Monroee can introduce terms like on fleek, and see the term tweeted around the Internet in record time.

If Webster were still around, he would no doubt say that’s how things should be. He’d probably be surfing the Internet to collect material for the latest revision of his dictionary. And to those who would argue that English needs to stay rooted in the Old World, he might just tweet, “Bye Felicia.”

Rosemarie Ostler writes books and articles about language, especially the history of American English. Her new book is Founding Grammars: How Early America’s War over Words Shaped Today’s Language. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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