HomeQ&AShould we abide to rules provided by Dictionaries or should we simply say "what the majority does"?

Should we abide to rules provided by Dictionaries or should we simply say "what the majority does"?

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I found this comment by Neil Coffey on another thread:

Remember it's the dictionary that is documenting language usage, not the other way round! If the dictionary claims that "electrocutar" must imply "mater", but in fact people don't always use it with this implication, then the dictionary is just inaccurate or out of date. (Dictionary editors are just poor human beings trying their best to document usage-- they don't have a direct line with God to ask what the "right" definition is!)

It's absolutely true that dictionaries have severe limitations in their ability to document language usage, and if they were able to include more detail, such as percentage usage with different meanings, percentage of informants that agreed that a word had a certain connotation or belonged to a particular register etc, then I think this would be hugely valuable. But in most cases, the reason they don't include such information is essentially practical (the data is too difficult to gather) rather than ideological.

But even if they did include such information, that doesn't suddenly mean you "should" take notice of it at all if you don't want to. Part of being an effective speaker and writer is continually judging what language to use based on how you believe your audience will react to and interpret it, in turn based on the whole of your "linguistic experience". A dictionary definition is essentially a compiler saying to you "I've found this usage in the corpus I was using to compile the dictionary", and a newspaper headline is saying to you "Here is a sentence that sounds "good" to me, that I believe fulfils the criteria of communicating the relevant information, having the right impact, and which I was able to come up with in the time frame dictated by my boss". In either case, it's up to you whether or not you take that usage into account when deciding what language to use in the future.

Do you agree to this''

8646 views
updated ENE 9, 2009
posted by 00494d19

39 Answers

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steve said:

Also, you have to consider the source. A musician would not misuse tempo and rhythm. I say misuse because I do maintain my own dictionary (though it's getting harder and harder to access some parts of it) , and in that dictionary (which resides in the head of a musician),tempo is the time interval between beats, not the beat pattern.
Ah but I do consider the source (since I'm in the moderate prescriptive camp). When it comes to musical terminology, I place more value on the opinions of musicians (professional or otherwise). Similarly, if the discussion were about camshafts and universal joints, I'd seek the opinion of an auto mechanic. It's the descriptive folk who would analyze the "corpus" and, like the TV game show, announce "Survey says ...!" Obviously, in any large corpus, musicians will be vastly outnumbered by non-musicians, and, thus, I would expect the opinion of the non-musicians to prevail.

Dr. Johnson may have thought it reasonable to frequently impose his own opinion about meanings but modern-day lexicographers are almost entirely the collectors and reporters of other peoples opinions. The pre/de -scriptive difference comes in when they choose whose opinions to report. The prescriptivist is going to go looking for experts/professionals/enthusiasts in the relevant field and report their (presumably, informed) opinion. The (more democratic) descriptivist will consider all opinions to be equally relevant.

You shouldn't need to maintain your own "musician's dictionary".

updated ENE 9, 2009
posted by samdie
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This is nowhere near as fun as it used to be. I have no axe/ax/adz to grind here. I don't know what they'll do in the future. In the words of Doris day que será será, or something like that. Something tells me that when globe stops turning, it will be due to something other than this topic. One thing that does worry me a bit, and this may already be happening, is that if future changes are influenced by all the electronic correspondence that exists today, and which is so readily available and easily made part of a database, are all the typos from people like myself, who can hardly type at all going to have an influence on future updates? There's something to worry about. I shouldn't get involved in these things, Im just having fun. I'll try to hold my tongue in the future.

updated ENE 9, 2009
posted by The-Steve
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steve said:

I was aware of that , and I do consider it to be incorrect. I'm not for language leading scholars around by the nose With regard to definitions and usage, I just think it's inevitable. I never responded to the original thread. Only to Heidita's reposting of one post from that thread. As far as I'm concerned, electrocution means death, but since I hear it misused frequently, I have to assume that the definition shock badly will be in dictionaries eventually if it isn't now.
Reasonable people don't deny the inevitability of change in language. I don't think
I've ever seen a dictionary that didn't boldly announce that it was "revised" and
"updated". I've certainly never seen one that announced "this dictionary is exactly the
same as the one we published fifty years ago because it is our policy to resist
change in language." At the same time, most dictionaries indicate (sometime subtly)
their "preference" for some particular pronunciation or meaning. In the "bad old
days", they were often much less subtle and might label a meaning as "vulgar usage"
or something similar. In part this is unavoidable. If there are two pronunciations/meanings,
one is going to have to appear first and most readers (if they notice that there is more
than one choice) will assume the first to be the "preferred".

To the extent that dictionaries are perceived to "favor" some choices they can be said
to be prescriptive and not merely recording usage. Given the limitations of the print
and human perception some "ordering" is inevitable. (Even if there were some way to
present multiple definitions without imposing an order, who could read both/several
simultaneously') So the descriptivists usually settle for printing a "policy statement"
somewhere in the forward matter (which few people ever read) to the effect that they
do not mean to suggest a preference for the first pronunciation/definition. Even my
fictious example from a non-existent descriptive dictionary, has problems. Since we're
all brought up to think that "more is better", reporting percentages of response would
be seen by many as an endorsement of the most frequent. One could argue that they're
only reporting the frequencies but one could also argue that the prescriptivists are
only reporting the disapproval (in some circles) of a particular definition.

With computer based dictionaries, it would be possible (when there were multiple
definitions) to present them in some randomized sequence (depending, say, on the day of
the week or the time of day) so that each time you looked up a word, the results
would be arrainged differently. However, I doubt that it would be a best seller.

P.S.
When "electrocute" is defined as also meaning "shock badly", will they also provide,
without prejudice, alternate spellings "elektrakute", "electacoot", ellectriqute", et al.?
Surely, it also a form of elitism to discriminate against other "common" spellings.

updated ENE 9, 2009
posted by samdie
0
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Also, you have to consider the source. A musician would not misuse tempo and rhythm. I say misuse because I do maintain my own dictionary (though it's getting harder and harder to access some parts of it) , and in that dictionary (which resides in the head of a musician),tempo is the time interval between beats, not the beat pattern.

steve said:

I was aware of that , and I do consider it to be incorrect. I'm not for language leading scholars around by the nose With regard to definitions and usage, I just think it's inevitable. I never responded to the original thread. Only to Heidita's reposting of one post from that thread. As far as I'm concerned, electrocution means death, but since I hear it misused frequently, I have to assume that the definition shock badly will be in dictionaries eventually if it isn't now.

samdie said:

steve said:

I have read thr the thread, and while I probably would have said it in fewer words, Neil and I have said the same thing: The dictionary is documenting the language. That's why it is constantly updated. Language will evolve as it always does, and the dicts will catch up eventually unless a word or new usage is only a passing thing.

Then you would probably not be the least bit bothered if someone were to point out a dictionary definition that stated that "tempo" and "rhythm" were synonyms (and, thus, can be used interchangeably) because the dictionary merely reflected the fact that many speakers do not make the distinction that you did. Careful adherence to this policy means that you can never claim that someone misuses/misspells a word, only that his use/spelling is less popular.

The issue with "electrocute" and "shock" (what got this discussion started) is essentially the same as the argument about "tempo" and "rhythm".

>

updated ENE 9, 2009
posted by The-Steve
0
votes

I was aware of that , and I do consider it to be incorrect. I'm not for language leading scholars around by the nose With regard to definitions and usage, I just think it's inevitable. I never responded to the original thread. Only to Heidita's reposting of one post from that thread. As far as I'm concerned, electrocution means death, but since I hear it misused frequently, I have to assume that the definition shock badly will be in dictionaries eventually if it isn't now.

samdie said:

steve said:

I have read thr the thread, and while I probably would have said it in fewer words, Neil and I have said the same thing: The dictionary is documenting the language. That's why it is constantly updated. Language will evolve as it always does, and the dicts will catch up eventually unless a word or new usage is only a passing thing.

Then you would probably not be the least bit bothered if someone were to point out a dictionary definition that stated that "tempo" and "rhythm" were synonyms (and, thus, can be used interchangeably) because the dictionary merely reflected the fact that many speakers do not make the distinction that you did. Careful adherence to this policy means that you can never claim that someone misuses/misspells a word, only that his use/spelling is less popular.

The issue with "electrocute" and "shock" (what got this discussion started) is essentially the same as the argument about "tempo" and "rhythm".

>

updated ENE 9, 2009
posted by The-Steve
0
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steve said:

I have read thr the thread, and while I probably would have said it in fewer words, Neil and I have said the same thing: The dictionary is documenting the language. That's why it is constantly updated. Language will evolve as it always does, and the dicts will catch up eventually unless a word or new usage is only a passing thing.
Then you would probably not be the least bit bothered if someone were to point out a dictionary definition that stated that "tempo" and "rhythm" were synonyms (and, thus, can be used interchangeably) because the dictionary merely reflected the fact that many speakers do not make the distinction that you did. Careful adherence to this policy means that you can never claim that someone misuses/misspells a word, only that his use/spelling is less popular.

The issue with "electrocute" and "shock" (what got this discussion started) is essentially the same as the argument about "tempo" and "rhythm".

updated ENE 9, 2009
posted by samdie
0
votes

Precisely!! I agree too.

steve said:

I have read thr the thread, and while I probably would have said it in fewer words, Neil and I have said the same thing: The dictionary is documenting the language. That's why it is constantly updated. Language will evolve as it always does, and the dicts will catch up eventually unless a word or new usage is only a passing thing.

Mark Baker said:

The point is Steve, if the same principles that Lazarus and Samedi advocate are applied to the 'hammer' example. unless 'ball-peen hammer' is included within their rusty old dictionaries then the definition by Wikipedia doesn't count and they shouldn't be using the terminology. From the outset Neil Coffey has said that dictionaries do not necessarily give the only definitive answer (as in the case of ball pein hammer).

steve said:

on the ball p'''' hammer. It looks like everybody's right. From the expert on everything, Wikipedia:A ball-peen (or ball-pein; also known in Europe and North America as ball pane[1]) hammer is a type of peening hammer used in metalworking.As for this discussion being meaningless, I think that is pretty much a given, beyond its immense entertainment value that is. I am not of the pre or de scriptive camp. I just think that while people get all worried over this kind of thing and type themselves mad, languages will do what they always do, and evolve. And dictionaries will eventually reflect that evolution by adding new entries and usages for old ones. Suggestions that that evolution should not be pushed forward by cabbies, carpenters, mechanics, barbers or anyone who doesn't teach classes at the university may have been unintentional, but it's hard to see it that way.

>

updated ENE 9, 2009
posted by Mark-Baker
0
votes

I have read thr the thread, and while I probably would have said it in fewer words, Neil and I have said the same thing: The dictionary is documenting the language. That's why it is constantly updated. Language will evolve as it always does, and the dicts will catch up eventually unless a word or new usage is only a passing thing.

Mark Baker said:

The point is Steve, if the same principles that Lazarus and Samedi advocate are applied to the 'hammer' example. unless 'ball-peen hammer' is included within their rusty old dictionaries then the definition by Wikipedia doesn't count and they shouldn't be using the terminology. From the outset Neil Coffey has said that dictionaries do not necessarily give the only definitive answer (as in the case of ball pein hammer).

steve said:

on the ball p'''' hammer. It looks like everybody's right. From the expert on everything, Wikipedia:A ball-peen (or ball-pein; also known in Europe and North America as ball pane[1]) hammer is a type of peening hammer used in metalworking.As for this discussion being meaningless, I think that is pretty much a given, beyond its immense entertainment value that is. I am not of the pre or de scriptive camp. I just think that while people get all worried over this kind of thing and type themselves mad, languages will do what they always do, and evolve. And dictionaries will eventually reflect that evolution by adding new entries and usages for old ones. Suggestions that that evolution should not be pushed forward by cabbies, carpenters, mechanics, barbers or anyone who doesn't teach classes at the university may have been unintentional, but it's hard to see it that way.

>

updated ENE 8, 2009
posted by The-Steve
0
votes

The point is Steve, if the same principles that Lazarus and Samedi advocate are applied to the 'hammer' example. unless 'ball-peen hammer' is included within their rusty old dictionaries then the definition by Wikipedia doesn't count and they shouldn't be using the terminology. From the outset Neil Coffey has said that dictionaries do not necessarily give the only definitive answer (as in the case of ball pein hammer).

steve said:

on the ball p'''' hammer. It looks like everybody's right. From the expert on everything, Wikipedia:A ball-peen (or ball-pein; also known in Europe and North America as ball pane[1]) hammer is a type of peening hammer used in metalworking.As for this discussion being meaningless, I think that is pretty much a given, beyond its immense entertainment value that is. I am not of the pre or de scriptive camp. I just think that while people get all worried over this kind of thing and type themselves mad, languages will do what they always do, and evolve. And dictionaries will eventually reflect that evolution by adding new entries and usages for old ones. Suggestions that that evolution should not be pushed forward by cabbies, carpenters, mechanics, barbers or anyone who doesn't teach classes at the university may have been unintentional, but it's hard to see it that way.

>

updated ENE 8, 2009
posted by Mark-Baker
0
votes

on the ball p'''' hammer. It looks like everybody's right. From the expert on everything, Wikipedia:

*A ball-peen (or ball-pein; also known in Europe and North America as ball pane[1]) hammer is a type of peening hammer used in metalworking.

  • As for this discussion being meaningless, I think that is pretty much a given, beyond its immense entertainment value that is. I am not of the pre or de scriptive camp. I just think that while people get all worried over this kind of thing and type themselves mad, languages will do what they always do, and evolve. And dictionaries will eventually reflect that evolution by adding new entries and usages for old ones. Suggestions that that evolution should not be pushed forward by cabbies, carpenters, mechanics, barbers or anyone who doesn't teach classes at the university may have been unintentional, but it's hard to see it that way.

updated ENE 7, 2009
posted by The-Steve
0
votes

Mark Baker said:

Samdi, when did anyone say the pin was 'pointed''....where does that come from'....everything is in black and white and clearly no one has mentioned 'pins with points'. Look at a door hinge on your car, there is normally a pin through the middle. It's called a door hinge pin with a rounded 'domed' head like the end of the hammer./blockquote>
Actually, I think that you now approach what I consider to be the crux of the problem!. There are, in my opinion, a large number of words that, as used by some people, can have rather "specialized" meanings. If one relies on a straightforward statistical approach, these distinctions are likely to be subsumed under the general rubric of "statistical noise" (In other words, not sufficiently frequent to be considered significant). Obviously, the "language academy" approach can also choose to ignore usages that it considers to be "statistically insignificant" but, In my experience, they are less inclined to do so.
Except for Kenyon & Knott (which only concerns itself with American pronunciation), I have never seen what I would call a thoroughly descriptive dictionary). and, for the most part, I care little about the opinions of some housewife regarding the possible meanings of different words for hammer or, equally, about the opinions of some carpenter about the names of kitchen implements. Sometimes I am quite content to use the general terms (that would be used/understood by the majority) but, other times, I want to learn/use the more specialized vocabulary that for most are "less explored waters".

In principle, any dictionary (whatever its philosophical bias) could provide such information but but, in my experience, statistical approaches are "predisposed" to ignore the "statistically insignificant".

updated ENE 7, 2009
posted by samdie
0
votes

samdie
I hope your not getting all worked up over anything I have said, I've just been sticking my head in to see who's said what and stirrng the pot for fun. Horse pucky is pretty strong language.

samdie said:

steve said:

And you would have thought wrong. Take it from a mechanic, a pin needs no sharp point, and I don't even know what a round point would be. If it's round, is it pointed? Which puts me in mind of the square point shovel, which is what you use to shovel gravel off the road, but also, like this post, has no point.

Horse pucky!. You ask, "If it's round, is it pointed? " and add that you do not know "what a round point would be". My "point" was, precisely that (in "popular opinion") "pointed" means coming to a "sharp" point. I own (and have used a "square pointed" shovel) but the very fact that most people feel the need to say "square pointed" shovel suggests that it runs counter to the "usual" notion" of "pointed". (again, popular usage).

If popular usage is to be the sole guide, then this exchange is meaningless. There are only "shovels'' and the distinctions that might be suggested by the actual users of different kinds of shovels is meaningless.

In short, the argument of the descriptive camp, reduces itself to "let us ignore the (superfluous) distinctions made by

the numerically inferior speakers"). Since such distinctions do not serve our purposes , they should be ignored.

>

updated ENE 7, 2009
posted by The-Steve
0
votes

Samedi,

Apologies for confusing the discusion at this stage but the italics are your comments from an earlier post.

samdie said:

Mark Baker said:

On the other hand it's prescriptive, in that the quotations are taken from (usually) well known authors/works, so the message is "this is what literate, informed people take the word to mean". They have not solicited the opinions of chimney-sweeps and street cleaners. Nor do they cull their quotations from today's headlines. I'm not sure that they have a fixed policy but one would be hard pressed to find a citation from the past twenty years.

>

updated ENE 7, 2009
posted by Mark-Baker
0
votes

Samdi, when did anyone say the pin was 'pointed''....where does that come from'....everything is in black and white and clearly no one has mentioned 'pins with points'. Look at a door hinge on your car, there is normally a pin through the middle. It's called a door hinge pin with a rounded 'domed' head like the end of the hammer.

samdie said:

Mark Baker said:

Maybe, you are one of the 48 per cent along with 'the housewives' since the hammer is called a 'ball pin' hammer since the end is rounded like a 'pin' (not ball peen hammer)......since when has spelling had anything to do with definitions?

Odd! I was taught "ball-peen hammer" by my father (I mention this, not because I wish to suggest that I consider my father to have been an authority on matters linguistic, but, rather, because he was a big fan of using the terminology (argot) specific to certain trades) . My Webster's New World College Dictionary contains only "ball-peen". The OED contains no entry for "ball-peen" (nor for "ball-pin") but does (under the word "peen", as a verb) offers "trans. To beat thin with a hammer, to hammer out; to strike with the pein of a hammer." I'm inclined to suspect that whatever source it is that you have in mind, being unfamiliar with the word "peen", substituted the similar-sounding (and more familiar) word "pin".Please, feel free to provide further information.P.S. When was the last time that you saw a pin with a "rounded point"? I would have thought that one of the defining characteristics of a pin was that it had a sharp (not rounded point).

>

updated ENE 7, 2009
posted by Mark-Baker
0
votes

On the other hand it's prescriptive, in that the quotations are taken from (usually) well known authors/works, so the message is "this is what literate, informed people take the word to mean". They have not solicited the opinions of chimney-sweeps and street cleaners. Nor do they cull their quotations from today's headlines. I'm not sure that they have a fixed policy but one would be hard pressed to find a citation from the past twenty years.

Here is the current Appeals List to the current edition of the official Oxford English Dictionary:

http://www.oed.com/readers/appeal.html

That means you or I or even a chimney sweep / street cleaner can supply relevant information on colloquial terms and have it assessed for inclusion in the next editon of the OED. Just think, during all those years you have consulted the Oxford English Dictionary, quoted and cited it's references, thought of it as a great authority and held the dictionary in high esteem when in fact the contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary were just ordinary people (among others) and you were quoting them all along. As it can be seen some Citations and words, on the list, date from the 1990's and are relatively new words and sayings. Thank God the dictionary was meant for everyone and never excluded anyone.....especially chimney sweeps.

Maybe this site should have a link to the Oxford University Press, since the OED definately wants links to websites like Spanishdict!!!....Just an idea for the management to consider after looking at the OED Learning Section.

http://www.oed.com/readers/
http://www.oup.co.uk/

http://www.oed.com/
http://www.oed.com/about/advisers.html

http://www.oed.com/learning/

updated ENE 7, 2009
posted by Mark-Baker
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