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Re: Webster's Dictionary...

Posted by GPP on August 13, 2003

In Reply to: Re: Webster's Dictionary... posted by R. Berg on August 13, 2003

: : : : :
: : : : : Here's a link to an article about the new words included in the new edition of Webster's Dictionary. On a philosophic note, I know the language is bound to change but I can't help but feel like the barbarians are at the gate.

: : : : Interesting article. I love righteous indignation. I read somewhere that OED never deletes words.

: : : The careful distinction (or so my grade school teachers stressed) was that a dictionary was descriptive, not prescriptive, that it merely recorded the language AS USED BY A MAJORITY OF EDUCATED PEOPLE. (Emphasis added, because some new dictionaries throw away that clause.) To legitimize "alright" is just plain wrong. Only half-wits and ignoramuses make that mistake. No educated person would use that word. In fact, it's one of many litmus tests that determine if you are indeed educated. If you don't know the difference between "less" and "fewer," you are ipso facto a nincompoop, and will not be allowed to have a say in what goes into the dictionary. Likewise, the very real distinction between "disinterested" and "uninterested." I wonder if this new abomination allows the use of "alot," which would be the final straw. We'd have to have a book burning.

: : Now I'm afraid to post anything for fear of making a mistake. The best I've read recently is an e-mail from a coworker -- "Thank you for your corporation." It wasn't just a one-time slip up. An e-mail a day or so later had the same line. She probably makes more money than I.

: You too could make lots of money if you collected corporations.

I agree with all of these comments, and with the thrust of Robert Hartwell Fiske's review, but I do make a distinction between three different types of words objected to. Granting his point of the ephemerality of slang (e.g., far-out), and especially granting his dismay over real words being omitted to make room for junk, I don't particularly object to neologisms (e.g., dis, funplex, McJob, headbanger, dead Presidents, Frankenfood). Ignorant misspellings (e.g., alright, accidently, and bob's example 'alot') seem a lot more objectionable. Personally, I get even more freaked out by the dictionary accepting ignorant misusages (e.g., disinterested/uninterested, reticent/reluctant, predominate/predominant, enormity/enormousness, infer/imply, juggernaut/jigaboo [! Who'd 'a' thunk it?], vociferous/voracious, and bob's 'less/fewer' example). Is anyone on the eastern side of the Atlantic aware of the brouhaha here a year or two ago when Julian Bond, the head of the NAACP, had to personally intervene in the firing of a white staffer who was impolitic enough to innocently, and correctly, use the word 'niggardly'? Thank god Bond speaks English. I don't think I know a single person under the age of 50 who knows that both 'affect' and 'effect' can be both nouns and verbs, or how to use either of them properly. (But with a red face, I have to admit I've been misusing the word 'peruse'--twenty lashes for me.)

Does anyone other than me still say EXquisite rather than exQUISite, HOSpitable, PREparatory, etc? Americans, at least, are seemingly incapable of accenting the first syllable of any multisyllabic word. I cringe whenever I hear forMIDable or apPLICable.