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V12 2009 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 26, June 28, 2009, Article 13

VOCABULARY WORD: FUTE, REFUTE, AND FUTE AGAIN

We love words here at The E-Sylum, even non-numismatic ones. Last week we had a discussion about the word "refute", inspired by a quote from a Colorado Springs Gazette article about the former Executive Director of the American Numismatic Association. -Editor


The online Merriam-Webster dictionary has these definitions for refute:
1 : to prove wrong by argument or evidence : show to be false or erroneous
2 : to deny the truth or accuracy of refuted the allegations


I then wrote:
So, I guess the reporter was technically correct, although I'm still on the side of George and Arthur in preferring the more narrow primary definition of the word. -Editor


Arthur Shippee delved further into matter for us this week - his comments are below. -Editor
After your note, I felt compelled to check print dictionaries with evidence.

1) Dictionaries, esp. modern, are descriptive, not proscriptive. So, poor usage will be reported. That does not make it "technically correct," whatever you may mean by that.

2) The simple gloss you give doesn't show any change of usage, or show what level of speech is reflected. Is this a traditional use, found in good authors? Or is it some corrupt form? We don't know from that citation.

3) OED and Merriam-Webster's 2nd: neither knows the refute = deny usage. Refute traditionally means very strongly to disprove or overthrow by argument. Given its etymology and its past, "refute" entails presentation of compelling evidence.

4) OED supplement (the 4-vol published supplement) has a new meaning, #5 vb transitive: "Sometimes used erroneously to mean 'deny, repudiate'." The earliest use is 1964, where it says that its use on the BBC shocks strict users, i.e., it's known, but clearly as inferior. Perhaps post-war? Other citations are from '78, '79, '80 (about as late as OEDS would get). "Erroneously," it says, i.e., clearly used by people not thinking clearly about what they needed to say, and just wanting the stronger-sounding word, regardless of its meaning.

So, while "refute = deny" may have some currency, it is clearly substandard usage, to be avoided and corrected. Just because it may be "English" doesn't mean it's good English. There are good reasons why it's bad English.


I'm glad Arthur set us straight on this; just as he, George and I thought, the reporter (and the editor who let it slip) were being shoddy with the English language; so far, no one has refuted anything.

-Editor


To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: VOCABULARY WORD: REFUTE (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v12n25a13.html)



Wayne Homren, Editor

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