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Old 05-05-2012, 05:07 AM   #26
benbradley
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I just made a rant about (d)evolving word meanings here:
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/...56#post7242256

I can imagine a XKCD cartoon being made out of this. In fact (can I used that phrase anymore?), I linked to one in a comment here:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/video...1ca7caf1198dde
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Old 05-05-2012, 05:16 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by Sarah Madara View Post
...
My guess is that it's less likely that the dictionary will get changed for words that still trigger discrimination (remember all the uproar over ebonics in school?), but it's really just a guess.
Speaking of discrimination ... (I'll get back to that)

I've been tempted to collect different editions of dictionaries solely to see how the definitions of words have changed. I've seen in different editions of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate dictionaries where the definitions have been modified or changed over the decades, especially the word hacker, which still has probably the most popular meaning of computer criminal, but with hackerspaces and the mostly-equivalent makerspaces, the original meaning is, amazingly, making a comeback.

The meaning of this word was discussed in P&CE recently, though I refrained from putting in my two cents worth. It used to ONLY mean the first definition here, and I have no doubt decades-old dictionaries have ONLY the first definition:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism
Quote:
1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2 : racial prejudice or discrimination
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Old 05-05-2012, 05:27 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by Once! View Post
That precisely the point! "Usually" can mean standard or habitual. It can also mean "most of the time", which is not quite the same thing.

When we get too hidebound by "correct" meanings of words, we miss out on the nuances and richness of language. And if writers aren't interested in the subtlety of language, what hope is there?
What? The nuances and richness of language come from the correct, precise meanings of words! If we can't agree on specific word meanings, how can we hope to ever write anything meaningful if every reader comes to each word differently. We'd completely lose all subtlety.
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Old 05-05-2012, 06:45 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by Shadow_Ferret View Post
What? The nuances and richness of language come from the correct, precise meanings of words! If we can't agree on specific word meanings, how can we hope to ever write anything meaningful if every reader comes to each word differently. We'd completely lose all subtlety.
1. Readers understand context.
2. Hoping you will write something meaningful is different from hoping you write something that your readers understand precisely as you meant it.
3. Beautiful writing often comes from using language in unexpected ways, blending a given meaning and an individual interpretation to create something new and deeply personal to both the author and the reader.
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Old 05-05-2012, 07:02 AM   #30
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Originally Posted by Sarah Madara View Post
1. Readers understand context.
2. Hoping you will write something meaningful is different from hoping you write something that your readers understand precisely as you meant it.
3. Beautiful writing often comes from using language in unexpected ways, blending a given meaning and an individual interpretation to create something new and deeply personal to both the author and the reader.
Guess we'll have to disagree here. I don't think you can create writing the way you're saying if the meaning of the words are in flux and if your intended meaning doesn't gibe with the reader's interpretation... it just causes confusion.
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Old 05-05-2012, 08:24 AM   #31
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Guess we'll have to disagree here. I don't think you can create writing the way you're saying if the meaning of the words are in flux and if your intended meaning doesn't gibe with the reader's interpretation... it just causes confusion.
It would vary a lot with the kind of writing we're talking about. Poetry is more forgiving than technical writing.
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Old 05-05-2012, 01:01 PM   #32
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What? The nuances and richness of language come from the correct, precise meanings of words! If we can't agree on specific word meanings, how can we hope to ever write anything meaningful if every reader comes to each word differently. We'd completely lose all subtlety.
Let me hazard a guess - you're American, right?

I've had this debate several times before on the internet. And the two schools of thought tend to divide on geographical lines. As I've said already, US English tends to operate by a series of rules. One side effect of this is that users of US English can have strong feelings about the correct meaning of words.

UK English, by contrast, is more chaotic. It is not so rules based. And while we also have sticklers for correct usage, we tend to be more welcoming to new words or new definitions.

Not saying that either is right or wrong. I'm just aware of the difference.

I'll give you an example. I write a lot about chess. Chess has its own terminology for different kinds of positions, different checkmates, different openings. But these words have never been codified or formalised. So different chess authors use words to mean slightly different things. Chess words also change over time.

Many of the US English speakers take the view that a word has to have a precise meaning. So they will go all huffy about a word and quote something (usually wikipedia) which they say is the definitive meaning. Then someone will find another source and say that it gives the definitive meaning. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Meanwhile the UK English speakers will mostly shrug and say "guess what? That word has more than one meaning. Or the meaning has changed over time. Or it has an unclear meaning."

What does "bad" mean? Or "gay"? Or "sick"? That all depends on the voice you are using and the era you are writing for. If you want speech to sound realistic you can't hide behind "correct" meanings.

I can't remember who said it, but it's a phrase that's always stuck in my head. "You British are so quaint. You think a good screw is a conscientious prison officer."

Last thought. Many of the words and phrases that are in common usage now were invented by a writer playing with meanings. It sometimes seems that you can't read a passage of Shakespeare without tripping over a word that he invented.

It's a good job that he didn't have a hang-up about the correct meanings of words.
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Old 05-05-2012, 02:25 PM   #33
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Old 05-05-2012, 02:41 PM   #34
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Old 05-05-2012, 06:18 PM   #35
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Nauseous seems to be more common than nauseated on .co.uk, .us, .com .gov and .edu websites.

Does the ending -ate have some function?

What's the difference between determine/determinate, orient/orientate?

To me, nauseous can sound like "He is nauseous" (he is feeling sick) and nauseated like "He became nauseated." Just trying to find some logic...

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Old 05-05-2012, 07:44 PM   #36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Once! View Post
So they will go all huffy about a word and quote something (usually wikipedia) which they say is the definitive meaning.
I don't know anyone who would use Wiki as a basis for their argument. That's the very definition of imprecise. It's completely untrustworthy and everything that's wrong with the Internet as a whole.
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Old 05-05-2012, 11:41 PM   #37
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Beautiful writing often comes from using language in unexpected ways, blending a given meaning and an individual interpretation to create something new and deeply personal to both the author and the reader.
Yep. I get bored sometimes. Lots of the time, really. And so I don't want to present my message in the same old way as any freshman compositioner might.

Anyway, word meaning is illusion. If all the world's people died at once, words would suddenly lose their meanings even if all the dictionaries still sat safely atop their pedestals.

Words don't mean things; only people can mean things.
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