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Re: What's Wrong With The Dictionary Def'n Of Truth?

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Posted by Richard D. Stafford, Ph.D. on March 2, 2001 14:30:10 UTC

I have no problems with the dictionary definitions except that they are not strickly in accordance with what people think. That is what is meant by the idea that English is a living language -- the meanings of the words shift every generation.

The reason for the shift is quite obvious when you get old. My grandfather (who was an English teacher in the 19th century) used to give me a hard time concerning my failure to use the word "yon". In his opinion, English had three articles "this", "that" and "yon": "this" referred to an object near the speaker; "that" referred to an object near the listener and "yon" referred to an object near neither. He felt very strongly about the issue. Yet I have never seen a dictionary referrence to support him (not that there arn't any, I don't spend much time in dictionarys - my ignorance is profound).

His position strikes me as very similar to my generations use of the word fewer. I was told as a child that if something could be counted you used the word fewer, if not you used the word less. Kids today for the most part don't even know the word fewer, they certainly don't use it.

It is my conclusion (just a personal opinion you understand)that children learn to speak by guessing what words mean from the context where they hear them. I have always taken it as my job to figure out what people mean, not their job to make it clear. Certainly they do not concern themselves with making what they mean clear!

Words have no meaning in and of themselves. They only have the meaning believed by the person using them and that is often very difficult to unravel. It is my opionion that such is the source of much misunderstanding.

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