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Category talk:English words affected by prescriptivism


I'm not crazy about the name of this category, but I like the concept. Certain words are occasionally used either as shibboleths to determine whether a speaker has been properly indoctrinated in "correct usage", or just as footballs for language mavens to play with. They deserve special note in wiktionary because their use may be poisoned by their status: If you use the "correct" term, you're damned for being too fastidious, and if you use the "incorrect" term, you're damned for ingorance. -dmh 21:03, 3 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Here's an alternative: I'd be happy to see a category containing all entries that have usage notes, and it wouldn't be hard put together a {{usageNote}} template for the purpose. -dmh 05:49, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 06:12, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)>I think that most entries should ideally have usage notes at some point. After all, the usage of a word like ambulate isn't adequately described with a definition, it has to be explained (it is only used with great frequency in the medical profession, in normal conversation unrelated to medicine, it might be considered snooty--only with a neutral stance). We should be pointing out that certain words are generally used more in particular contexts than in others, and that certain words carry certain connotations. This is not to say that a usage note category would not be a good idea, just that it encompasses way more than what hippietrail started here. Perhaps if we had something like "usage problem" or "usage conflict" or "beware of prescriptivists"?</Jun-Dai>


I'm not a big fan of the long article title myself but I didn't want to postpone making it until I could think up something elegant which still said what I wanted to say.

I tend to think like Jun-Dai WRT usage notes. I'm not opposed to the category you suggest, just not as a replacement for this category. — Hippietrail 14:11, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I don't have very a strong opinion about this either way. I tend to think of usage notes as a catch-all for notations that don't fit with the usual conventions. In the example of ambulate, tagging it as (medical) would probably be adequate. While it's true that every word has nuances of usage, many of these nuances related either to reasonably well-defined domains (mathematics, finance, music etc.) or levels of formality (formal, colloquial, slang, vulgar slang etc.). There are also grammatical distinctions like countable, always plural, not comparable and so forth. Granted, we don't generally define these categories rigorously, but the point is that they tend to be common across several words (or senses of words) and repeating them in separate usage notes would be a lot of work and prone to errors.
I also believe that well-chosen examples can be very helpful. While they obviously don't tell you how not to use a word, they can at least show how a word is typically used, in lieu of a more formal description. There are several reasons I prefer constructed examples to quotations for this purpose, but I won't go into that here.
In any case, I wholeheartedly support the notion of a category for usage land mines like tidal wave, decimate and so forth, and I also recognize that this is not the same as "all terms with usage notes". There should probably also be a category for potentially offensive terms, and perhaps for other potential pitfalls such as words often misspelled.
As an aside, I'm becoming convinced that as a general rule, categories should not be attached directly, but via templates. Among other things, this should make it much easier to rename categories. As we can see here, knowing that a category exists is a separate matter from knowing what to call it. -dmh 15:25, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Initially I thought like Eclecicology that using templates for categories would be a bad idea, making things more difficult than necessary - even during the edit war. After reading somebody's thoughts (sorry, not enough time to find who) I realize it is the correct thing to do for the one thoroughly good reason that it makes categories renamable (is that a word?).
E's repeated deleting of the contents of the category just makes it difficult to recall just what was in it before. Being able to rename it without destroying its contents has to be much much better. I believe we should discuss this on the Beer Parlour or take a vote on it, or just start doing it. — Hippietrail 23:36, 16 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 00:57, 17 Jan 2005 (UTC)> I disagree for three reasons. One is that the templates themselves must have names, which is a problem in and of itself (though I agree it will be less of a problem, since the name won't be visible to the end user). Two is that it will make the process of adding these things, or editing a page and understanding the stuff you are editing more complicated and therefore less appealing to new users. Three is that when we make a change to a template, it only takes effect on the pages with the template when someone goes in and edits that page (i.e., there will be a very slow and gradual change after a template modification), though this is offset a little by the fact that it will be easier to intentionally change it (just click edit and submit) than with categories, but not the simple solution that people seem to think it might be (am I misinterpreting?). Anyways, we can always rename categories by moving them. That allows us to bring the text and the discussion with the category. It won't bring the links, but neither will templates (automatically, anyways).
I am not _strongly_ opposed, however. I just think that less complicated is better until we can prove that the solution is a good one. </Jun-Dai>
Of these reasons I think the naming one is minor but may still be enough to lead an offended contributor to mass-delete categorisations, the "difficult to use" one is minor because we can teach and make standard. But the third reason is major and enough for me to change my stance if it is true that editing is still required to make renamed categories update. If the software is updated to remove this problem I would again vote for categorisation by template, or at least agreeing not to delete the categorisation work of others while renaming discussions are ongoing. — Hippietrail 10:58, 17 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I honestly don't understand how writing {{disputed}} or whatever it is is more complicated than writing everything out by hand. The whole point is that using a template is simpler than not using one (otherwise, don't use it). True, templates take a small amount of extra effort to set up, but so what? It's orders of magnitude less effort than we've spent discussing this category.
Finally, I just tried editing the "hoops" template to read "hoops" instead of "basketball" in the finished entry. It worked fine — the changes showed up immediately. That's always been my experience, actually, though I do remember someone months ago making a rash of minor edits to try to make a template change effective. Even then it didn't seem it was actually necessary.
There does seem to be some lag in populating categories, even when the entry in question is updated, and I'm not sure how or whether this would be affected by templates. The lag certainly happens even when there are no templates involved. User:dmh
Um, my template edits don't take effect (especially my User page & talk page) until the target page is edited. I edited fick tonight, as it was still referring to the old rfc/rfc1 template(s). After the one character change, it was using the newer rfc template, no longer in the category:Cleanup.
OTOH, I prefer using templates, in general. The category names are less likely to be typoed, etc. --Connel MacKenzie 07:08, 18 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Hmmm. It wasn't working on my user page earlier when the server was slow, but it is working now. Very odd. --Connel MacKenzie 07:21, 18 Jan 2005 (UTC)
What makes the current title offensive is that it singles out the supposed supporters of a particular linguistic philosophy. "Usage notes" as a category is too broad. I tend to use it for anything that I feel needs explaining. Category:Common misusages might be more appropriate. The article should explain the level of acceptability that applies to the misusage. Eclecticology 20:22, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Um, "common misuages" seems slanted just a bit the other way. One of the sources uses "Usage Problem". Perhaps "Contentious Usage"? -dmh 20:36, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 20:49, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)>My vote is for "Usage Conflict"</Jun-Dai>
I think usage confilct isn't actually bad but it takes away the description of what's going on. My intention with this category was "some people tell you to say x even though some / many / most of us say y. just because they're telling you this doesn't mean they're right. read about it and decide for yourself." — Hippietrail 04:31, 5 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I would be more amenable to "Contentious usage" or even "Disputed usage" (both with small "u" :-)). There isn't necessarily a "conflict". There is a correct usage, in the traditional sense, and it will continue to be correct; there is also another usage which has deviated from that in some way. In the few that I have examined I find considerable variation in the level of acceptability. Eclecticology 04:49, 5 Jan 2005 (UTC)


OK, I guess I had misunderstood the purpose of the category. I had thought it was a "please fix me" type of thing, the current name implies that. I kind of like 'contentious usage'... its contentious since people contest how many people use it (thus its a contentious usage). Not because folks are agruing over which one is correct. --Eean 19:01, 5 Jan 2005 (UTC)

How about "Correctness disputed"? IMHO, the current title is both adequately descriptive and NPOV (more on that in a bit). I just find it infelicitously long, and would hope to find something more concise.
As to NPOV, the fundamental issue we're trying to avoid taking a point of view on is whether there is such a thing as "correct usage" at all. My personal POV is that there is no official standard of English usage that I know of, and there are a great many unoffical sources to choose from. Thus dialects such as "Standard American" and "Received Pronunciation" are more mutable and much less well-defined than they are generally taken to be. At any given time there are ongoing disputes over minor points (e.g., Hopefully, ...) and subtle shifts in basic structure (e.g., continuing gradual loss of inflections like whom and hither/hence, irregular forms like striven and grammatical distinctions like subjunctive mood).
Those of us with this view find pronunciations of "correct usage" discomforting at best and offensive at worst. So-called correct usage is a social construct, not some inherent property of language or even of a given language. Pronouncing a usage correct implies otherwise, or worse, implies that the social construct is itself somehow blessed.
This is not to say that anything goes. Languages do have rules, and these rules tend to be remarkably consistent from speaker to speaker. We all know that The dog bit the cat. does not mean the same thing as The cat bit the dog., and that Dog the bit cat the. is just nonsense. The usual "incorrect" usages are demonstrably correct in the linguistic sense — people say them and are understood. -dmh 19:08, 5 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 20:16, 5 Jan 2005 (UTC)> The idea behind correctness of usage is that most people use the "incorrect" form out of ignorance more than choice (unless the "incorrect" form has reached such dominance that people will favor it over the "correct" form intentionally, as with something like hopefully). Language certainly does evolve, but the idea is that those who are willing to put thought into such matters should strive to effect consistency rather than allowing further inconsistency. The fact that there is no authoritative opinion on the English language is a large part of the reason that English is one of the most inconsistent (and as a result, difficult to learn) languages in common use, which is hard to see as being a good thing.
One result of this is that many prescriptivists will favor constructions like cactuses, because, despite breaking from its etymology, pushed the English language towards internal consistency. In a way, you can think of there being two basic types of prescriptivists: etymological prescriptivists and prescriptivists aiming to make English more consistent. In a case like data, the first group are strongly opinionated, and the second are not as concerned. In a case like virii, both are up at arms. A descriptivist, however, would be forced to accept it as a valid construction with infrequent to moderate use (454,000 google hits), in spite of the fact that there is no similar plural formation in the English language, and absolutely no etymological rationale to support it.
People attached to the older form of words like hopefully, however, are mostly just wistful of a time when people thought about the actually construction of the word rather than its idiomatic use. A similar feeling might be expressed about fantastic, which has now mostly come to mean good, excellent, or great.
There is, in fact, a fine line between prescriptivists and descriptivists, because descriptivists have to consider the fact that there is an 'elite' (for lack of a better word) form of English and a common form of English. Certain malapropisms or faulty grammatical constructions will not be accepted by editors and professors, but are in regular use by most people. The consensus behind this lack of acceptance comes from a mixture of being old-fashioned (or linguistically conservative) and prescriptivist (aiming for a more consistent English, either internally or etymologically). It is for this reason that even a descriptivist might correct their child when he says "John and me are going to the store," even though this construction sees common usage--no one wants their child to be handicapped in the face of academia.
As a dictionary resource, our goal should be to: (1) point out all popular usages; (2) point out all cases where a usage would generally not be accepted in, say, a college essay; (3) point out all cases where a usage is frequently considered obscure, pedantic, pretentious, and is likely to be met with confusion; (4) point out all cases where the correctness or validity of a usage is disputed; and (5) point out the reasons behind the dispute. People should be given the resources to make an informed decision about what to use when, based on the rationale of each argument, and what it will make them look like to their friends, public, professors, etc.</Jun-Dai>
I think we're basically coming to the same conclusion from different directions. On the one hand, we want to tell people what to expect (thus my "expect to be misunderstood" proclamations for hacker and decimate) while avoiding the implication that one dialect is somehow inherently superior to others. This much seems fairly uncontroversial.
Personally, I have a further axe to grind: I would like to counteract the notion that prescriptivist prescriptions are made on objective, logical grounds. The choice to prefer, e.g., etymology or consistency is arbitrary, and within the consistency camp, the choice as to exactly what is consistent is often arbitrary as well (come to think of it, etymological conservatism is also based in a notion of consistency). I realize that this is a somewhat controversial view, and there are those who believe that, say, the famous rule on multiple negatives is an inevitable consequence of some logical chain of reasoning.
Thus I don't want to assert my point of view so much as ensure that neither point of view is given preference. This is generally just a matter of documenting who considers what correct, without asserting that any particular party is right. This category is, I think, aimed at cases where there are vocal proponents of multiple views. -dmh 05:36, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)


"correctness disputed" sounds like it is talking about the Wiktionary definition, as opposed to the word itself (same problem with current category title). "usage disputed" would be good, as would "contentious usage". --Eean 05:52, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Hmm I'm not really swayed by any of the suggestions. You see, it was this new meme of correcting tidal wave into tsunami which spurred me on to making this category. What I found interesting was that this particular case is not controversial! Everybody had been using "tidal wave" for a long time to name a) disasters such as has recently ocurred in Asia, b) "giant ocean waves" which, from articles on the phenomenon don't seem to exist in reality, but exist in the popular imagination and have thus been named. Apparently, for a longer time, a smaller number of people have been using "tidal wave" in a literal/technical sense actually related to tides. Though the word "tsunami" is attested in English to describe the disaster sense only a couple of decades after "tidal wave" is first attested in the same sense, "tsunami" remained an exotic, rare word. This I have verified by looking up "tsunami" and "tidal wave" in every dictionary in my collection and quite a few in book shops and the local library. The vast majority of small-sized translating dictionaries have an entry for "tidal wave" defined as a disaster or a giant ocean wave - or just translated without explanation, but only the Japanese dictionaries also contain an entry for "tsunami". The sole exception I have found so far is a very modern Thai<->English pocket dictionary from 2002. What I find interesting is that the popular term for both the disaster and the giant ocean wave (which, remember, doesn't exist) is currently at this very moment changing from "tidal wave" to "tsunami", the latter having been preferred by seismologists et al but not by the layman. The interesting part is that this change is powered by semi-informed "correction". It is semi-informed because the correctors still talk of "giant ocean waves" and the logical inaccuracy of "tidal wave". The correctors do not investiage what "tidal" means. They do not investigate wether there are giant waves in the ocean. They do not investigate whether the word they recommend has been historically popular by layman. My last point is that just about everybody buys this correction and "realizes" they've been using the "wrong" term. Practically nobody is saying "tidal wave" is better or just as good as "tsunami". Even I'm not saying that. I'm just amazed that the change is taking place because of shallow explanations copied from place to place without investigation and without controversy. Very interesting. Hence my category.
The whole phenomenon of the old term giving way to "tsunami" seems to be duplicated in many languages. Especially those whose old term contained a "tidal" sense. Perhaps this is under the influence of English. Perhaps it is under the influence of a translingual meme that "tsunami" is the modern or correct word for this phenomenon, no matter the language.
Now you can also see just how awful my prose is - but I hope I at least got my point across. — Hippietrail 15:03, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Your prose is just fine as far as I'm concerned. I think the recent tidal wave of tsunami is a classic case of hypercorrect usage. A similar but interestingly different example would be he and I in the accusative or dative (That was good enough for he and I. and such). The difference is that he and I outside the nominative has different social consequences — it's a giveaway that one has tried to emulate "correct" usage but has not been formally indoctrinated in it.
Hmm . . . there may be something else going on as well. The recent disaster has become "the Tsunami," and correctness aside, there was a need for a short and distinctive label for the event. The label "tsunami" had the advantage of being fairly widely known but not widely used, and thus filled the "short unique label" niche better than "tidal wave". Yesterday I saw a sign outside a neighborhood here in the heart of suburbia thanking the residents for raising $914 dollars for "tsunami relief" through a children's art sale (and bless them; every little bit helps). Clearly "tsunami" is the name of this event, wherever else it may be used.
I would still put tsunami/tidal wave in the same category as he and I (if it were a Wiktionary entry), and together with decimate and datum, because even though the exact details vary they all show to various degrees people changing perfectly good usage for fear it might not be "correct". In this view, I would probably not include hacker, because neither usage group is trying to emulate the other. Thus "contentious usage" or whatever is a broader category than "subject to hypercorrection". -dmh 17:06, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 18:29, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)> Hypercorrection is when someone follows a rule that they've been taught and misapplies it elsewhere, usually out of a lack of understanding of the basic principle out of which the rule is constructed. Your example of he and I in the accusative case is a perfect example (perhaps the classic example), because it stems from people hearing that he and I is correct (though John and I might be a better example, because anyone that would say that was good enough for he doesn't have an awareness of the accusative case in the first place), and applying it, even though it is only actually correct in the nominative case.
The other classic example of hypercorrection is the inappriopriate substitution of whom for who in the nominative case. Again, cases are not very easy to understand in English, because they leave a very light footprint (they only affect pronouns), which is why whom is alreay most of its way out of common English.
Yet another example of hypercorrection is to take the non-existent rule of not ending one's sentence with a preposition and apply it to phrasal verbs (because the second part of the verb is not actually functioning as a preposition). While it is questionable to correct someone for ending their sentence with a preposition (because there is no reason for such a rule, and it isn't espoused by any authority), it is a hypercorrection to correct a sentence like "When are you going to get up?" (there is no preposition in that sentence).
Tsunami/tidal wave is quite different, however. Rather than hypercorrection, it is an example of nit-picking, being fussy, or being arbitrary. There is no rule being mis-applied here (or if there is one, I haven't heard of it), and a good number of prescriptivists are behind the discommendation of tidal wave and the recommendation of tsunami (whereas no authority is recommending the use of he and I in the accusative case). The idea is that use of the term tidal wave to refer to large destructive waves (which is the sense of the term that has certainly come to dominate) has stemmed from a misunderstanding of the cause of these waves, and its continued use might contribute to people's confusion. I can't really speak to how valid this point is, but there is a non-contentious term for the identical phenomenon: tsunami. An example of hyper-correction would be someone using tsunami to refer to the wave of water swelling around the world that is the tide, but I can't see that happening, because anyone talking about such a concept would most likely understand (and probably be part of the reason for) why tsunami is being favored over tidal wave.
As for the mass media, they are simply preferring a well-known non-contentious word over a well-known contentious one. The level of contention has not reached the point that they will stop using tidal wave altogether (it is still seeing regular use in the media), but I believe tidal wave has lost dominance. In scientific journals, tsunami seems to be even more favored. It may take a good deal of time (a generation or two?), but I believe that tidal wave will pretty much disappear, largely sparked by the recent events in South Asia, which has caused almost all of America to understand what the term tsunami means (which I bet was not the case before).
There is one factor that I'm omitting, which is that people still don't feel as comfortable using tsunami in a metaphorical sense as they do tidal wave. If this doesn't change, we will probably have both terms in mainstream English for a very long time.</Jun-Dai>
These are good points, but I still think hypercorrection figures in, in that people know that there is a distinction between tsunami and tidal wave, don't know the exact source of the distinction, but insist that tsunami is correct for a wave not caused by tidal sources. Note the importance attached to cause.
In fact, a tsunami is technically defined independently of cause (Or is it? The two notions I cited — long-wavelength and caused by an impulsive change in sea level — both come from NOAA sites). Tidal waves in the popular sense are so called because they resemble extremely fast tides. Thus neither "tsunami" or "tidal wave" is necessarily defined in terms of cause. The quote from the 1946 Scot's Cap lighthouse disaster makes this eminently clear in the case of "tidal wave". The account writers clearly believed that the wave was caused by the earthquakes (particularly by the time the formal report was filed), but that didn't stop them from calling the wave a tidal wave.
I now believe the "not caused by tidal forces" notion to be a red herring, and its attempted application hypercorrect in that it tries to apply a perceived rule without knowledge of actual usage. In the case of accusative John and I, the perceived rule is that I is always correct. In the case of whom, it's the perceived rule that whom is always correct in formal speech. In this case, the perceived rule is that waves are categorized by cause (furthered in some cases by the existing narrow usage of tidal wave).
I would say that both senses of tidal wave are valid, just as the various senses of bank are all valid. -dmh 20:01, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 20:42, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)> I think the perception is not that waves are categorized by cause, but that tidal wave is simply an "incorrect" word (being unaware of its uncontentious use in the first sense), and that tsunamis are the "correct" term for large waves that are not part of the ordinary tide. The only case of hypercorrection resulting out of this that I can see is that people would correct someone using the word tidal wave in a totally non-contentious sense (meaning a wave caused by tides). The fact that you and others consider both senses of tidal wave to be valid, while still others consider one of the senses to be invalid, is why the term has contentious usage.
The reason that tidal wave is objected to is because it is not caused by tidal forces. Whether that reason is valid is the source of contention (you believe it is not valid. Hippietrail also seems to agree. I'm not really concerned with whether it's valid; I only see two words that mean the same thing, one of which is contentious and the other of which is not). After all, there are many words whose etymology comes from a misunderstanding or from ignorance. The prescriptivist position should ideally consider whether there really is any fear that people will misunderstand what the term means as a result of its obvious etymology (whereas tsunami only has an obvious etymology to people who understand Japanese).
With regard to descriptivism, if we are to be descriptivist, then we should indicate that whom can be in the nominative case (i.e., any time who is used), and that criteria can be used with a verb in single form ("this is the criteria"). If we ignore those usages, then we are being prescriptivist. If we label those usages "incorrect," then we are being prescriptivist. If we in any way elevate the people who consider those usages to be "incorrect," then we are being prescriptivist. What to do? I say that we simply have to come to terms with the fact that a certain amount of prescriptivism comes into play when you are constructing a reference.</Jun-Dai>
I have no problem at all with saying that, e.g., criteria as a singular is widely considered incorrect and does not accord with the eytmology. I'm fine with documenting who considers what correct and why, when the information is available. That's descriptive. I stop short of saying that one form or the other is correct. That's prescriptive, and more to the point here in Wiktionary, it's POV. I don't think this distinction generally creates problems, except that we occasionally have to soften pronouncements of correctness that creep in. In the case of tidal wave, I personally take issue with the reasoning that tidal wave is incorrect because tides don't cause them. You might as well say that horseshoe is incorrect because it's not made from a horse. But I didn't say that in the latest version of the usage note on tidal wave. I instead tried to amend the existing text minimally so as to show both views. -dmh 22:23, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 00:39, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)> "e.g., criteria as a singular is widely considered incorrect" This would be prescriptivist, because you are lending tremendous weight to the people that consider it incorrect, since they are actually quite few in number. I bet if you took a poll, fewer than 10% of this country would think that the sentence phrase I stated above was incorrect. The only trick is that most people who use it with the singular verb do it out of ignorance, and would change it if they recognized that it was incorrect (especially when Microsoft tells them that it's incorrect).
Horseshoe is different for two reasons. The most important one is that it's a single word. Tidal wave is two things: it is a two-word term, and it is also two words that can sit next to each other in a sentence. Because the term tidal wave is so well known, people would never put those words together without referring to the term. Nevertheless, many prescriptivist like their multiple word terms to function correctly as a combination of its parts. If the word were tidalwave, we would most likely not see as much resistance to it's use in referring to something that is not tidal. If the term were completely removed from its parts so that there was no danger of someone thinking that what was being talked about was "a wave that is tidal," then there wouldn't be as much of a problem (like "red herring"). The reason that this term is disputed is that there is the possibility that someone will think you are talking about a wave that is tidal in origin (because they won't know the term, but they will know the two words contained in it), and because the object you are talking about is in fact a wave, the context won't indicate to them that you are actually using an idiomatic term (whereas if you say that the gun in the desk drawer was a red herring, they will quickly realize that you are not talking about a herring).
Imagine now if a time came where most people didn't know what the word awe was, and do to a mix up on someone's part (because they misunderstood the meaning of awe), the phrase awe-inspiring came to refer to something that was funny (they thought that awe meant funny). This would doubtlessly generate some controversy amongst people that actually knew what awe meant, and then you would have a fight between the more prescriptivits pedants and the more descriptivist pedants. In the case of awe, there actually is a good example: try using the word awesome in an essay for college, with the meaning that something is exceptionally good and exciting. Few professors would hesitate to mark that as an error, despite the fact that the word awesome is used to mean great and exciting far more than it is used to mean "inspiring awe." Awesome is a neologism, however, and may work its way into the formal language at some point, and then it would no longer be contentious. If it were a two word phrase, however, (like awe-inspiring), it would probably continue to generate disagreement as long as it existed.
The other reason horseshoe is different is because there is a very strong convention in the English language allowing for the creation of words and phrases of two nouns where the second noun belongs to the first noun according to some preposition ("shoe of/for a horse" -> "horseshoe", "helmet for (use with) a motorcycle" -> "motorcycle helmet", "boat for (use on) a river" -> "riverboat", "trap for lobsters" -> "lobster trap"). There is an established convention there.
Returning to tidal wave –I don't think we should write that tidal wave is incorrect, and it wouldn't do the terrific problem justice if we write that it is "generally considered incorrect." Nor would it solve the problem to say that "some people consider it incorrect." What we have to do is identify the contexts in which someone is likely to be corrected for its use. Can we find a styleguide that disapproves of it? Is there a publication that has a policy against it? Do people in hard scientific fields avoid it like the plague? Is there a jargonistic definition of it that excludes the use of it in its general sense (e.g., amongst marine biologists?). Not knowing any of these things, I'm not qualified to write that part, but we can at least begin filling in the framework for it, and hope that someone who does know these things will add a context for it. The only thing that is clear is that there are circumstances under which you will be corrected for it.</Jun-Dai>


I've removed this category name from all articles, and generally replaced it with Category:Disputed usages. I find the title under which this was started was offensive because iit classified articles according to a supposed class of people (prescriptivists), or to a philosophy that might be held by a group of people (prescriptivism). Eclecticology 02:58, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I was offended by this close-minded change while the categories and their names are being discussed at great length in a very open-minded way. I was offended that I was being portrayed as offending people. I'm at a loss as to how anyone could be offended. I consider myself quite pedantic and don't think I'm offending me. I tried to choose a category name that was both descriptive and NPOV. Replacing the category to a less descriptive one is an error. Replacing the categories from certain inflections of a word and not others is an error. If you find "prescriptive" offensive perhaps you should improve description or prescription of that particular term. If you can think of a term that describes as accurately what's going on without harming any delicate sensibilities, I invite you to contribute this term to the discussion. Let's postpone any re-categorising until the discussions have concluded with helpful results. — Hippietrail 04:12, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I agree that Ec shouldn't have changed things while there was an ongoing discussion. But seeing how I suggested 'disputed usage', I really don't see the problem with it. You seemed to be arguing earlier that folks do not dispute (or you were at least undergoing your own bout of prescipitivism and saying they shouldn't) the use of 'tidal wave' as 'tsunami' - this is simply not true, some folks do, thats why there is a usage note. Words without disputed usages should not be in the category under consideration, if I understand things correctly. Words that do have a usage that some argue is inaccurate/wrong it should be. I don't understand how it is less descripitive (well, outside of dropping the language, which it probably shouldn't). --Eean 06:23, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)
There may certainly exist better category names than "Disputed usages", but they do not involve characterizations of people. The words that have been disputed should not be cast in a prescriptivist vs. descriptivist framework. "Prescriptivist" seems to be a lexicographer's equivalent to "evil" because either a person who insists on a traditional usage or one who insists on a contemporary usage can be alleged to act in a prescriptivist manner.
In some of the word pairs that have been mentioned the dispute does not apply to both members of the pair. The dispute about "data" involves whether it can be used as the subject of a singular verb; there is no dispute that "datum" is not singular. The insistence on inserting the POV that it is "archaic" or "pedantic" has no basis in fact, and the latter term in particular should be used cautiously because of its pejorative overtones. Again with the "tidal wave" / "tsunami" pair the dispute rests entirely with the use of the misnomer, "tidal wave". What is the disputed usage of "tsunami"? Eclecticology 08:17, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Not all disputed terms are affected by prescriptivism. Not all terms affected by prescriptivism are disputed. The two categories are not the same.
Yes it's true I'm kicking up a fuss to save tidal wave but I haven't seen it defended anywhere else yet. I don't have such a big ego to label the term disputed just because of little old me. Of course if the category meant a Wiktionary dispute that could well be different. However I'v assumed the category is for terms disputed out in the real world.
I spent a few hours at the library today looking through dictionaries and style guides. Tsunami is much rarer than I expected in small and/or bilingual dictionaries. Tidal wave is also rarer than I expected but turns up in the majority of dictionaries. Sometimes with the technical and popular uses, often with just the popular one. In bilingual dictionaries it can be very difficult to tell of course. I was very surprised in one big old Websters to find only the popular definition! Yet another big surprise was that neither term appears in any of the 5 or 6 style guides I looked at and tsunami appeared in only 1 dictionary of foreign terms. I also noted that American dictionaries suggest pronunciation with /su.../ whereas Australian ones prefer /tsu.../.
I honestly don't know why Eclecticology is getting so riled by the term "prescriptivist". As Eean points out, I too show my prescriptivist side. That's not offensive. Same with the term "pedantic" though in that case I agree that it could be offensive to some. I never mind it when I'm called a pedant though the term "smart arse" is probably more common when I'm in such a mood. If "pedant" is too politically incorrect, what is a less charged term that is still accurate? In my experience it is pedantic to always prefer "die" over "dice" and "datum" over "data". When people go the next step and correct people using the popular terms they are "prescribing" it. What else can I call it? Correctionist? Especially when the so-called "errors" are in such overwhelmingly common use.
As for putting "dice" and "data" in the category but not "die" and "data" that depends on a couple of cans of worms. What is a word? Are "box" and "boxes" two distinct words or two forms of the same word. Is "roller skate" one word or two words? You will certainly find the word "word" used to apply to all of these variations. I'm sure technical words can be found to separate the senses - "lexeme" and "listeme" come to mind but those are way too jargonistic to use widely here. As long as we're sticking with plain old "word" we should get comfortable with the fuzzy range of its meaning(s).
Another can of worms is the difference between the categories. While nobody would "dispute" that "die" and "datum" are correct, both the "error word" and the "replacement word" are clearly affected by prescriptivism every time somebody tells another person, "don't say 'dice', 'die' is correct".
A shining example of the very reason I started this category and my own personal "dispute" to save "tidal wave" from banishment and shame is just above:
... the dispute rests entirely with the use of the misnomer, "tidal wave" ...
Why call it a "misnomer"? Why is this word so common that every has known and used it yet the "correct" term so specialized that it rarely appeared in smaller dictionaries until very recently. Why is "tide" more innacurate than "harbour"? How is the label "misnomer" not prescriptive? Besides myself, where is the dispute? (Yes those questions were rhetorical, I know they have already been discussed at length above and on Talk:Tidal wave)
Hippietrail 13:48, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Oops, it seems Wikipedia's def of "misnomer" is better than ours. "Tidal wave" and "tsunami" are both indeed misnomers - thanks for teaching me! The rest of my tract stands. — Hippietrail 14:34, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)
FWIW I'm becoming more and more convinced that tidal wave is not a misnomer even under the strict definition, because tide fundamentally refers to gross changes in the local ocean level, whatever their cause, and that with tidal wave and tidal force both being derived terms, it's specious to argue that they should accord. -dmh 21:23, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 16:38, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)> The word pedantic should be avoided at all costs by the wiktionary as a word to describe any usage. In keeping with NPOV, it might not be wrong to say that "some people consider this usage to be pedantic," but that is misleading. I think most people don't consider usages to be pedantic as much as being corrected on one's usage when one can be understood without the correction.
The word prescriptive isn't nearly as bad as pedantic, because it contains no connotation of judgement value. Pedantic people are those people who will stop you in the middle of a sentence to correct your grammar, or will fuss over minor details in an argument rather that working on the larger discussion. As a pedant, I am quite frequently accustomed to being referred to as pedantic, and I only use the term myself as a means of appropriation--to remove the sting of the word, so to speak; it is a form of self-deprecation for me to refer to myself as pedantic, because doing so invalidates by own points and arguments.
Similarly, if I refer to someone as pedantic, I'm attempting to sidestep whatever they've said and invalidate it by making a point about the person themself. In any argument, its sole use is to invalidate or devalue the argument without responding to any of the points of the argument itself. It is the equivalent of referring to someone in a political argument as an extremist. You are marginalizing your interlocutor.
That said, I've never heard anyone refer to the use of die as the singular of dice as being pedantic. It is, as far as I have seen, the norm. The use of dice to refer to a single die, while it occurs, is much more likely to raise eyebrows in my experience.</Jun-Dai>
Hippietrail, you obviously didn't follow the discussion on tidal wave. I was with you at first - of course tidal wave means the same thing as tsunami, thought I. But I forget which, but some autoritative body like the USGS said tidal wave was an incorrect term, and it makes sense especially given that tidal wave (as shown by Jun-Dai) has a more logical less-violent meaning (you know, one that involves tides). But getting back to what is important... I don't see how 'affected by prescriptivism' is different from 'disputed usage'. And if it is different, how the hell are we supposed to be able to explain that to people given you've written paragraphs on the subject and I still can't understand the difference. I mean, what is the goal of this category? How does 'disputed usage' not accomplish it? --Eean 22:04, 8 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I've become bored of the discussion though I remain thorughly interested in how the words are changing and being corrected. I am also bored of E's disregard of established Wikipedia behaviour by deleting changes under discussion. Bored again by how this is accepted without much ado. I'll comment again later but can't be bothered with it all for now.
'affected by prescriptivism' is different from 'disputed usage' in much the same way affect is different from dispute - the latter says their is a dispute. The former only says some people tell other people their usage is wrong, whether or not there is any dispute. If you still don't understand, please highlight the difficult areas so I can home in on them, it seems very obvious to me but I don't mind helping you to see if it really is still unclear somehow.
I honestly don't mind renaming the category to something with the same meaning, once such a name is found. I do mind E's little pretend war. If that's not worse than nitpicking and pedantry, I'd like to see some definitions in here with which to accurately describe it. — 06:00, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 19:04, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)> I'm new to contributing to the metawiki projects, but I don't see any problem with E's approach. We have a category that a number of people think is non-NPOV, and he has essentially removed the category as long as those objections remain. If we can agree on an NPOV category title, or if we can agree that this category title is NPOV, then it would make sense to reinstate it. Isn't that the norm for the wiki projects? Or do they really leave the material in there until everyone agrees that it is non-NPOV (it doesn't seem like very much non-NPOV material would ever get removed with that approach)?
While I recognize a difference between "affected" and "disputed", what I don't recognize is how any word cannot belong to the "affected by prescriptivism" category. It would, as far as I understand it, have to include every entry, and that renders it pretty much useless. If you want a category title that describes words where people are strongly aware of the prescriptivist influence on a word, that's different--though we would then still have to deal with the issue of NPOV. </Jun-Dai>

prescriptivism and descriptivism NPOVEdit

<Jun-Dai 20:10, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)> I've realized what I find to be wrong and non-neutral with the title. All of the words that are "affected by prescriptivism" are also affected by descriptivism. That is to say, they are affected by the debate over prescriptivism and descriptivism. There are plenty of cases where either approach has more or less won out and there is really no debate anymore (hopefully, mentality, however have been "won" by descriptivists--meaning that prevalence of the offending usage has overpowered its opposition; on the other hand, many popular words have come and gone, and it could always be argued that it was in part because they never gained a footing in formal usage. Additionally, certain prescriptivists have made some usages unusable in many settings, such as nigger, Jap, cripple, oriental, etc.). Thus, both descriptivism and prescriptivism have affected every word in this category, and to single out prescriptivism assumes a stance (i.e., that descriptivism is the default and that prescriptivism is doing the "affecting". Many would argue that it is the other way around--that what is called "prescriptivism" is really just the codification of conventions and a form of linguistic conservation, and that "descriptivism" is an excuse for allowing unconventional, inconsistent, misunderstood, and misleading words into the language proper).

After all, data was initially a plural form, and it was only correct to use it as such, and it would still be that way (i.e., other usage would be marginalized), except that descriptivists had forced it into the language proper as an uncountable noun, creating the conflict that now exists (though I must admit, the descriptivists have mostly won this one). Same goes for graffiti, etc. So far the prescriptivists have lost pretty much no ground on dice or criteria, but it is possible that the descriptivists will gain a foothold, at which point those may become acceptable as singular and uncountable nouns, respectively, whereas currently they are used as such almost exclusively out of ignorance rather than intention. That is to say that they have so far been affected only a little by descriptivism. </Jun-Dai>

Um, how would descriptivists force anything at all into a langauge? If I note that, say, dice is often used in the singular, but it is not considered Standard English, I believe I'm describing actual usage. If not, the description is inaccurate and should be fixed. The whole point of descriptivism, and the reason that it has won out in linguistics, is that language is determined by its speakers, not by written formal rules. I would hope that someone reading a descriptivist definition would know not to use a form "considered non-standard" in a job interview with a professional firm.
A descriptivist view explicitly does not take a stand on what people should say, only on what they do say. When I say "descriptivist" I do not mean linguistic anarchist (though apparently it is gaining that connotation :-). Descriptively saying that a particular "incorrect" usage is nonetheless widely used does not advocate in favor of it. Personally, I dislike irregardless and "all are not" to mean "not all are", but I'll be glad to describe either usage. -dmh 21:13, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 21:49, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)> A word is affected by descriptivism if it is pushed into acceptability based on the fact that it is used that way, rather than on the fact that it is consistent with the language, accepted in formal contexts, in keeping with logical, scientific, or etymological associations, etc. A descriptive view of grammar defines grammar based on usage rather than on etymology, consistency, or notions of acceptability. Descriptivism is the promotion of or subscription to that grammar, and it defines a word as 'acceptable' (i.e., part of that grammar) if it used. Promotion of this view leads to the word making its way into "proper English," and at that point the word can be said to have been affected by descriptivism. Descriptivism is, in effect, the promotion of common usage into proper usage through the negation of the concept of "proper usage." Prescriptivism is, in effect, the promotion of proper usage through the negation of the concept of common usage as being English.
Additionally, we are not acting as linguists, we are acting as lexicographers, and descriptivism has by no means won out in lexicography. I have never seen a dictionary that includes mention of the word "whom" as a nominative pronoun, in spite of its frequent use as such. I have never seen a dictionary that includes mention of the word "criteria" as a single noun. I have never seen a dictionary that includes the spelling "loose" to mean "lose," "to" to mean "too," etc., even though both see tremendous use on the internet and in writing. Dictionaries must balance prescriptivism and descriptivism because most people don't go to dictionaries to find out how a particular word is generally used so much as they go to dictionaries to find out what a word is "supposed" to mean and how it is "supposed" to be used and spelled.
How much of this is strictly intentional on the dictionary's part I'm not certain (though I can hazard a guess), but the other factor that plays into it is that dictionaries are going to be biased towards sources that behave in a prescriptivist manner (published books, media, academics, etc.).
If _we_ want to be descriptivist, and absolutely so, then we must include common mistakes, which includes two categories: words that people misuse or misspell generally out of ignorance (e.g., dice) and words that people misuse or misspell by accident (e.g., loose). Obviously the line between these two categories is blurred (many people use whom in the nominative case by accident, and many do it out of ignorance). Additionally, to be purely descriptive, we should describe words as having marginal use if they are known and used by less than some percentage--say 1%--of the population (which is most of the dictionary). This would be the non-prescriptivist approach to compiling a dictionary, anything less would at least have some elements of prescriptivism.</Jun-Dai>
Firstly I have to say that most of Jun-Dai's arguments seem very forced to me whereas dmh's seem calm and straightforard. Jun-Dai is arguing for Wiktionary to side with "correctness" by using many "incorrect" meanings for words which have traditional, prescribed, dictionary meanings. Look up "prescribe", "describe", "pedantic". Granted some of the connotations exist but Wiktionary is a serious forum and when these words occur in the context it can be assumed they are there for their usual dictionary definition and not for any connotations which may or may not be felt by certain persons in certain periods of time. If it is felt that they are not just connotations but part of the very definition of these words, edit the definitions and let any debate rage over at their talk pages.
Having said that, I do feel that Jun-Dai does have a bit of a point regarding where to draw the line. I'd be pretty certain that all of us are in favour of providing only the "correct" spellings of words. It is also obvious that we are divided on which senses of words we should give and how we should handle questions of usage. One point is that big respectable dictionaries like the OED don't handle usage directly. They leave that to separate books on Usage, of which there are many and Fowler's may be the most well known. Now I don't have an OED handy but I think it's conservative enough that I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't contain an uncountable sense for "data" or a singular sense for "dice". The fact that everybody I grew up with uses the latter and the majority of people I knew, except some computer people use the former, is what makes me want to describe them as okay. I don't want to prescribe them and I don't want them labeled as just plain "wrong" because we can do better than that.
So while I don't buy Jun-Dai's argument of "if we include x we must include y" we should try to distinguish the cases more clearly so we can form a coherent policy.
"Tsunami" is the most interesting case here because every case has a traditional use prescribed in place of a popular use. But in this lone instance we have a newer or more technical term being prescribed in place of a traditional and popular one. I like and use both terms and I want to describe them both. I don't want to tell people "this one is wrong" but any of you can see that many many people and websites are saying "tidal wave is wrong". That is prescricptivism, and I'm not calling anyone names! — Hippietrail 03:32, 8 Jan 2005 (UTC)


<Jun-Dai 07:02, 8 Jan 2005 (UTC)> Forced, huh?  :)
In any case, I think you've misread my statements in a few cases. To begin with, I never argued for the Wiktionary to side with "correctness," I simply felt that if you think you can escape being prescriptivist you are being foolish, and that trying to avoid prescriptivism at all costs is a grave mistake. That said, I'm not arguing for Wiktionary to side with "correctness," I'm arguing for what I see as moderation: recognition that there are degrees of correctness, but that all popular usage that is not derived solely from ignorance (e.g., misusage of whom) should be given space; that we should distinguish between "formal" English (i.e., what you could get away with in a college essay submitted to a good professor) and relaxed English where various forms of so-called incorrect usages are acceptable within a variety of contexts.
"I don't want to prescribe them and I don't want them labeled as just plain 'wrong' because we can do better than that." This I can agree with. If we include a definition that is considered incorrect, we need to explain why it is considered incorrect and who considers it incorrect. However, I think we ought to leave out usages that are derived purely from ignorance (e.g., misusage of criteria). We should also develop a mechanism for separating formal English from common English. People need to be able to come to this reference and know immediately that a using a sense of a certain word that we provide is going to get them a mark off on their essay. People also need to know when they are likely to be corrected by others for a particular usage (as we know, there are certainly people out there who will correct you if you say "tidal wave"), and people will need to know when they will be considered pedantic for a particular usage (e.g., using data as a plural noun in informal context). We needn't ever say that a usage is wrong or incorrect, but we will retain a degree of prescriptivism (as all dictionaries do) in that we will ignore usages that we feel are wholesale incorrect (thinking again of whom), and we will be giving a certain weight to formal English, even though it represents a relatively small portion of the use of English.
"if we include x we must include y" This was never my argument. I never felt that including one thing for the sake of descriptivism necessated the inclusion of something else. What I am trying to get across, however, is that in order to be purely descriptivist (i.e., to eschew nearly all prescriptivism), we must include y, which includes mentioning loose as an alternative spelling of lose. I despise the idea of pure descriptivism almost as much as I despise the idea of pure prescriptivism, and I simply will not stand by while someone denigrates one or the other on general principle, because they both have their place, and they are both necessary in any form of lexicography.
In the end, I feel the only way to make this category in NPOV is to change the meaning of the title to relate the fact that we are listing words that are in no man's land between prescriptivism and descriptivism. If prescriptivism has lost the battle, as is the case with hopefully, then we needn't include it.
I'm not actually recommending this as the title, because it could be more concise and easy to understand, but what we want to convey is something along the lines of Category:English_terms_affected_by_prescriptivism_and_descriptivism (tidal wave, after all, is a term, but not a word).</Jun-Dai>
Why do we even need the category? Practically every word is affected by prescriptive and descriptive approaches. Both the rigidity of a strictly prescriptive approach and the anarchy of a purely descriptive approach ahould be avoided. I agree with Jun-Dai on this. Dictionaries do tend to prescribe the meanings of words, and for the average reader I regret to say that he is quite satisfied with that. He is not interested in the details about how the word acquired its meaning. If colloquial usage deviates from the strict grammatical usage that absolutely needs to be mentioned in the article. What we don't need is categories that lock these problems away in some kind of pigeon hole. Eclecticology 10:44, 8 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Heh, but pigeon holes are very important to dictionaries! (its what the OED used). Anyways, I do think it makes since to have a category for words that have a usage note saying that some people (especially experts and grammarians) say using a word with one of the definitions is incorrect (like 'tidal wave'... it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have 'tsunami' in the category).
Category:Disputed usage does just that. Eclecticology 09:47, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)
And to Hippietrail, the OED is anything but conservative, it was started as a reaction to the prescriptivist dictionaries of the 19th century, its part of what makes English unique, that one of our 'authoritative' dictionaries is so lax. It does say that using 'dice' as a singular is more common in 'gaming and related senses' then die. Which agrees with my observations, the only person who I can think of that uses 'die' is studying to be a librarian, so obviously doesn't count. It does say something under its 'datum' entry that it is used in the plural form with a singular construction... not entirely sure what that means. Maybe referring to people saying "here is the data" instead of "here are the data" (the latter sounding wrong to me.) --Eean 22:31, 8 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Isn't there a tone of contempt when you refer to "the prescriptivist dictionaries of the 19th century". Quotations are at the heart of descriptive lexicography; without them what are you describing? The correct usages for "dice" and "data" don't seem at all strange to me; I would not hesitate to use them "correctly". We don't need long-winded rants to justify the prescriptive usage of the "incorrect" form, when appropriate quotations would show that it really is used that way. Eclecticology 09:47, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I think the reason tidal wave is drawing so much attention is that the quotations are overwhelmingly on the side of the "incorrect" usage. The only people who seem to use tidal wave "correctly" are oceanographers, and I have no problem with saying that oceanographers use tidal wave in a specialized sense, just as blacksmiths and sprinters may use heat in different specialized senses.
As far as I can tell, the relevant debate for wiktionary is how to deal with the widely-heard insistence that certain terms (tidal wave, podium and decimate come to mind) may only correctly be used in narrow and narrowly-attested (in some cases virtually unattested) senses.
Being a dictionary, we can't really remain silent. On the other hand, if we want to have any credibility at all, we can't insist that someone's pronouncement that, say, scale should only refer to ladders has the same weight as the evidence from quotations.
The widespread notion that tidal wave for tsunami is incorrect is every bit as interesting and relevant as the fact that this is the overwhelmingly prevalent usage. Since the notion is so widespread, someone innocently using tidal wave in its usual sense should know that they may be branded "incorrect." This may be useful, for example, to a student writing a term paper, who may then choose between substituting "tsunami" or citing the available evidence in her defense of tidal wave.
In the case of tide, tidal wave and related terms, I've been trying to figure out just what story usage is telling, by examining actual usage. I've tried to pull together the results of this investigation on User:Dmh/Tides. While there are still significant gaps (e.g., the history of tidal per se), the broad outlines are abundantly clear. In particular, the notion that tide and related terms necessarily relate only to gravitational effects is completely indefensible.
The only remaining question is how to write these and similar findings up accurately without offending those who are sure that the English-speaking world is using its language wrongly and must be informed of its error. This seems considerably more difficult than the actual research.
I would like to add one personal note and implicitly, a plea. When I first started this particular exercise, I held the popular notion that "gravitationally-influenced changes in sea level" was the primary sense of tide. This is reflected in some of my earlier entries on tidal wave and so forth (to the effect that the popular usage may still be correct even though tidal waves are not caused by tidal forces). Only after actually looking at usages did I realize that tide refers primarily to the rise and fall of the ocean, whatever the reason.
This is blindingly obvious in retrospect. Essentially there is a special case for "tide" in the narrow sense of "daily tides", but as soon as you wander away from that — considering tide pools, or storm tides, or figurative uses of tide, or for that matter any of the related terms on tide — it becomes very clear that the central notion is the movement of water. The gravitational explanation of daily tides looms so large, though, that this is hard to see.
There's nothing wrong with keeping in one's mind "the tides are caused by gravity". I don't even see anything wrong with thinking "I have to say tsunami because the moon wasn't involved." People think all sorts of things. The only error I see is in perpetuating this notion in a dictionary without checking the facts, no matter how sure you may feel. A lexicographer's job is precisely to do the research and present the results, especially when these results run counter to our own preconceptions.
I have found that, almost without exception, when I have sat down to try to understand how a term is used, I have learned something new, not only about the term itself but also about how languge works and how people use it. I personally find this much more satisfying than simply asserting that something is right or wrong, and I believe this commitment to finding out what's actually happening is at the core of the descriptive approach (thence the name). -dmh 18:21, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I disagree with dmh when he says that tides only affect water. Land tides also exist, but are much less noticeable. If one accepts the idea that the earth's crust is a series of plates floating on a liquid core those plates are bound to be affected by gravitational forces. I've read User:Dmh/Tides, and find that considerable thought has gone into it. That discussion is obviously too long to go on the tide page, and too studious to go on its talk page. It inclines me to suggest that his essay could be moved to tide/Essay (or even tide/Essay 1, where it could be a signed article. There are many other words that could use a similar treatment. Eclecticology 19:19, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Thanks for the kind words. One point of clarification: I'm definitely not claiming that tides only affect water. My claim is that the primary sense of tide involve movements of water at the shore, and that other (perfectly legitimate) senses are derived through various means. The oceanographer's definitions of tides and tidal waves and the physicist's definition of tidal force and tidal acceleration split off in one direction, common usages like rip tide, red tide and storm tide split off in another, with neither inherently more or less correct. (I think I'll move that into the essay).
In any case, I'd be glad to move the essay anywhere appropriate. I left it on my user page for exactly the reasons you cite (too long and too studious). I also wanted to make it read-only to preserve it as a coherent essay, there being plenty of places to reply and rebut. -dmh

One quick question and one nitpick from the peanut gallery here...1) dmh, did you create a template such as {{cdu}} so the revert war can contain itself to just a single template? 2) Navigating *any* harbor usually requires a local tide-table. The tides are caused by gravity from the moon, which dictates the period of the cycle. But bottlenecks such as the mouth of a harbor, or undersea mountains or ridges cause each local area to have wildly different high and low tide times. (Electronic capacitors and resistors make good analogies to undersea geography in their affects on the tide times.) I certainly agree that storm tides are a completely separate category. But arguing there is something wrong with "the tides are caused by gravity" is misplaced, I think. -Connel MacKenzie 11:42, 11 Jan 2005

I didn't create the cdu template, and as far as I can tell it doesn't exist. In any case, I prefer a debate in discussion to a revert war.
I agree that arguing that there is something wrong with "the tides are caused by gravity" is misplaced. In case it's not absolutely clear, that's not my argument. Nor am I arguing that oceanographers are wrong to use a narrowed sense of tidal wave. They're perfectly right. I'm arguing that leaping from "oceanographers define tidal wave narrowly" to "the narrow definition is the only correct one and people use the term incorrectly 90+% of the time" is unwarranted. I further argue that this leap stems from a similar, less widely-noticed leap with respect to tide. Further still, even specialized senses of tide allow for causes other than gravity (e.g. a "thermal tide" in the atmosphere).
As far as I can make out, the relevant aspect of tides is (to coin a phrase) whatever floats your boat. That is, it is the rise and fall of the ocean, and the concommitant currents, that make tides a concept worthy of such a widely-known and deeply-rooted word. As you point out, it's not enough for a pilot to know that the tides are caused by the moon and sun. It's not even enough to know how to reckon the gravitational influence of the two. What the pilot needs to know, and what generally requires a table or other device, is how high the water is going to be and which way the currents are flowing. Navigators were grappling with this long before the gravitational theory of tides was worked out.
In other words, and as you point out, the concept of "tide" is understood locally and in terms of water by everyone but oceanographers, students in science class and a few others. It's no surprise, then, that tidal wave is understood similarly. -dmh 19:16, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)

That the OED is a descriptivist dictionary is a myth. That is possibly the intention of the current editorial team; Oxford still has a reputation for being more prescriptive than M-W, but maybe this is changing. However, until the dictionary is rewritten, it will certainly not be a truly descriptivist work. Take this example, from the definition for "refute": "Sometimes used erroneously to mean 'deny, repudiate'." (M-W, by contrast, gives this definition of "refute" without even a usage note!) Examples of the OED's prescriptivism could be multiplied (though I do not have the time right now). Also, note that while the OED may never have aimed to be conservative, it tends to come across as conservative because of its infrequent updates. With the third edition currently in preparation, and more regular updating made possible by the internet age, this might change to some extent in the future.

Wiktionary, of course, should describe how language is actually used, but at the same time it should take note of disputed usages, because this is useful information for the reader. However, Wiktionary should not take sides against prescriptivism (which is the impression given by the title of this category). To be anti-prescriptivist is POV. Putting across an anti-prescriptivist POV is something different from creating a descriptivist dictionary. The latter is a legitimate aim, yet the former is not. -- 20:11, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I must be daft. I don't see any "anti-prescriptivist" connotation in this category's title. --Connel MacKenzie 20:48, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 21:26, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)> It's not so much that the title is "anti-prescriptivist" as it is that the category exists to single out words where people have become peeved by prescriptivist notions with regard to the word. After all, all words have been affected by prescriptivism. How much of our use of the English language stems from being told what certain words mean and how to use them? All of it. This category, however, contains words where people have come to resent being corrected for "incorrect" usage, because its use seems common enough to justify its status as "correct", or because they believe the reasons given for it being "incorrect" are themselves erroneous.
In a way, you could say that the words in this category are all those that have been affected by descriptivists taking a prescriptivist stance and arguing that the words should be considered acceptable. After all, that is the difference between the tsunami-sense of tidal wave and a word like virii --no one who has explored the topic would recommend virii as the plural of viruses, and thus the word is not included in any dictionaries, because it hasn't been affected by prescriptive descriptivists.
So: it's not so much that the category title is NPOV as it is that the category title is erroneous or useless (because in order not to be erroneous, it would have to include all entries in the wiktionary). </Jun-Dai>
Um, so you are saying you agree that this category title is not "anti-perscriptivist"? --Connel MacKenzie 21:39, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 21:47, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)>No, I do not agree.

To clarify, I think that the title does not technically carry any anti-prescriptivist implication, but I also think that it is being used erroneously, that its according-to-me erroneous use belies an anti-prescriptivist stance, and that it denies the role that descriptivism plays in shaping these definitions (because these words wouldn't even be on the list if descriptivist prescriptivists weren't standing up for them). Not that the list has any words in it any more. It's just become a forum for discussion.  :) </Jun-Dai>

Hmm . . . first, just to make things a bit more concrete, I think Jun-Dai's current version of the Usage note for tidal wave is pretty good. FWIW, I would call it "descriptive". Back to the debate . . .

I tend to think that very little of our use of English (or any other native language) comes from being told what certain words mean and how to use them, both in the sense that relatively few words are routinely subject to prescription, and in the sense that such prescrition manifestly doesn't make much difference in how people actually speak. We usually learn words by picking them up in conversation. A child learns words at the rate of one every hour or so for several years. Very few of those are learned in any formal, prescriptive sort of way.

I do take the point that "descriptive lexicography", like "objective journalism" is more an abstract ideal than a reality. Everyone has an axe to grind. However, one of the things I like about Wiktionary is that it is specifically built on a process for ironing out differences in opinion. Wiktionary is potentially more objective and descriptive than Dmh's dictionary, or Jun-Dai's, or whoever's. That said, I will continue to resist the notion that the sort of descriptivism I've been trying to practice is actually prescriptive. I particularly dislike the term "prescriptivist descriptivist".

When someone says "tidal wave is incorrect because ...", that's clearly prescriptive. When I agree to label develope as a misspelling, that's clearly prescriptive. But the sort of statement we've been wrangling over is different. I'm bringing up the ample evidence against the "tidal wave is incorrect" view because it's there. I'm not asserting that tidal wave for tsunami is correct in the article on tidal wave, even though I've made it quite clear that I think it is.

As I see it, we're trying to balance two points of view on a basic issue. The basic issue is whether attestation trumps authority. The points of view are the descriptivist one, which holds that attestation is the most important

prescriptivism and descriptivism NPOV - PART 2Edit

factor, and the prescriptivist one, which holds that authority can step in and say that something is correct because someone particular person or perhaps a large number of random people say it is.

In my view, Wiktionary should be neutral as to these two points of view. It should not assert, for example, that tidal wave for tsunami is correct because it's overwhelmingly used that way. It should not say that tidal wave for tsunami is incorrect because it does not accord with the definitions used by oceanographers. It should say that both views are held, and present a reasonable amount of evidence behind each view.

In the vast majority of cases, the two views agree, for much the same reasons that most language acquisition happens naturally and informally. There are, however, a few cases where the two views diverge, and we see endless discussions such as the present one. I believe that this is a legitimate basis for a category. I'm not sure what the best name for such a category is. Something like "terms for which common usage is often cited as incorrect" would be about what I mean, but it's no more concise than the present name. -dmh 22:05, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 23:35, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)> I patently disagree with your first two points:
  • "in the sense that relatively few words are routinely subject to prescription"
    Every time a teacher marks someone off for misusing or misspelling a word, they are effecting prescriptivism. Every time someone corrects someone else for "misusing" a word, "mispronouncing" a word, etc., they are effecting prescriptivism. What's more, every time someone tries to make sure that they are using a word "correctly" (e.g., in an essay, for a cover letter, etc.), they are reacting to prescriptivism (i.e., allowing it to affect them). The most important, however, is that every time someone attends a class wherein they "learn English" or "how to write", they are absorbing prescriptivism. Just the fact that people are aware of the idea of a "correct" usage of a word, or "correct" grammar has a profound effect on the way our society uses language. The "correctness" of English presents barriers to employment, learning, wealth, and power, and so people must "improve" their English to attain these things. All of this is prescriptivism at work.

All these things happen, but IMHO you are vastly overstating the prevalance of this effect. Most of the time, people just "get it right." There is a tendency for parents to want to "correct" a child who says "Her is going too fast," but this doesn't make much difference. The child eventually learns the usual form with or without the coaching, just as a child learns to walk with or without coaching. In fact, I'd say the analogy there is pretty strong.

If you're saying that every single word we learn, we learn because someone put it on a vocabulary test and graded our results, then this is clearly false. Much of the world's population has little or no formal schooling, and yet (spoken) language acquisition is so common that its absence is considered seriously abnormal. Even in formal education, most usage is simply absorbed informally. There isn't time for anything else. I don't see much vocabulary drilling going on in preschool, and yet by kindergarten the average child has a vocabulary in the high hundreds if not thousands and a grasp of grammar and idiom beyond that of an adult learning a second language. Just how does this happen?

  • "Very few of those are learned in any formal, prescriptive sort of way." Not necessarily formal, but prescriptive. As children we absorb language by witnessing it, but we also absorb it by being corrected, or witnessing people's reactions to our usage of the language. This is especially true in English, because the language is so inconsistent that there is no way to learn all of the exceptions to the grammatical rules but to be taught them, generally through experimentation or by looking them up or asking someone.

I don't know of any well-defined way in which any language is more consistent than any other, but be that as it may, I agree that witnessing people's reactions is a key part of language aqcuisition. I personally wouldn't call that prescription. To me, prescription means explicitly saying "this is right and this is wrong". In point of fact, one can speak with a heavy foreign accent and grammar and still get a positive response, or speak fluently with a native accent and be misunderstood. People are so used to adjusting for differences in production that foreign speakers are often grateful for the rare explicit corrections they get.

Again, I don't believe that explicit correction plays a large role in acquisition. If you have empirical data to the contrary, please share them/it. Implicit correction by picking up people's reactions is not "prescriptive" in any meaningful sense I can think of, and certainly not in any sense I've ever attributed to the word.

  • "and in the sense that such prescrition manifestly doesn't make much difference in how people actually speak."
    The very notion of a "standard English" or "standard American English" is the product of prescriptivism. Other dialects in American English are considered to be at best quaint and at worst affectations, blights on the language, or unacceptable. This is because standard English has become so prevalent and dominating as to exclude the possibility of anything other than "accents" entering the mainstream in this country. This is because people feel that they have to learn "proper English," and because people look down on people that don't use "proper English." Double negatives are scorned, and therefore not used (except for some slippery exceptions) in any formal situations or by "people who know better." Words like "ain't" are part of a lexical barrier to entry for Harvard or for management positions in a large company. All of this has tremendous effect on the language, and the words that we are quibbling about are really just the few exceptions that for varying reasons haven't been wiped out or held out of the main language.

Hmm ... I was going to agree with some of this, but on further reflection I don't think I can.

There are very real social/linguistic phenomena at work in the notion of "Standard English": people try to emulate speech they think will give them an advantage. Social groups tend to use lingustic (and other) cues as indentifiers of membership. Linguistic cues work particularly well in certain cases because, after a certain age, it is exceedingly hard to pick them up fluently. Thus people in privileged positions tend to adopt certain manners of speech and those who wish to break into the club try to emulate them.

This is not prescriptivism in any way, shape or form.

If "Standard English" actually existed and could be codified and taught prescriptively, linguistic marking would be much less useful. Linguistic marking is useful precisely because it cannot be prescribed.

Actually, we need to be a bit careful here. On the one hand, the use of local "non-standard" accents allows elites to recognize outsiders instantly. A typical example is the Boston "broad a" (itself taken from English usage, but that's a different story). Someone trying to break in to Boston society is liable to say "cahn" instead of "can", by analogy with "cahn't" for "can't", only to find that the natives don't say that, and instead of merely being an outsider, be marked forever as a poseur.

On the other hand, you seem to be talking about notional accents/dialects like "Standard Midwestern" and "Received Pronunciation", and/or to "proper grammar" as taught in school. All of these are fictions. Standard Midwestern is a moving average of the speech of various national personalities, none of whom completely conforms to the standard. Received Pronunciation likewise. Proper grammar is any of a variety of sets of formal rules from self-proclaimed authorities which cover a small fraction of actual usage, occasionally fly in the face of actual usage in polite company, and are the subject of endless theological debate. Attempting to adhere to them too closely will instantly and durably mark one as a tight-assed pedant.

  • While being descriptivist is a lofty goal, and one that we should strive for, to an extent, the notion that it is something that we can achieve (even mostly achieve) doesn't do justice to the tremendous pressures of control that groups of people exercise over the language in the process of exercising control over society. As a dictionary, no matter what we do, we will be bending to these controls to a large extent, and there simply isn't anything we can do about it.


I agree. I believe we are only arguing over the nature of the controls. I continue to believe that grammar books, wizened third-grade teachers and such have only a limited effect on what sort of speech will get one in what sort of trouble. I believe that practicing linguists also tend to take this view, but I can't speak for them.

In most cases, we should focus on figuring out what people actually say. In the rare cases where there this or that term may produce unexpected results because "everyone knows" that a perfectly obvious usage is "incorrect" we should note that.

This covers cases like tidal wave, where the notion of correctness has received wide attention. It's important for decimate because the pedantry just won't die. It seems less important for podium, which seems pretty obscure to me. It occurs to me that there should be similar standards of attestation for usage beefs as for the terms themselves. E.g., the objection to tidal wave is very well attested, the one for decimate less so, but it's still shambling around. On the other hand, if I were to say that scale should only be used to mean ladder (a perfectly reasonable suggestion by the standards of folks who don't like "podium" to mean "lectern"), then that's basically a "protousagism" and should not be included under scale.

This all seems to be about what we're doing anyway, so end of discussion, right? -dmh 05:47, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Doing a quick search of the currently 52,563 Wiktionary articles for the term "Usage" I get 499 hits; most seem to be explict prescritionismization. (Go ahead, correct me!) I disagree that the term prescriptivist applies to all 52,563 articles. I do not see how the category name is erroneous. And I still don't see how the category title is "anti-prescriptivist." --Connel MacKenzie 22:31, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 23:03, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)> Well, since you haven't responded to any of my points, there's not much for me say other than that I've explained why I think the category name is erroneous, and why the category title represents an "anti-prescriptivist" position. What I will say is that I can't think of a single word in the English language that is not affected by prescriptivism. Much of the time people pick up meanings from context, but throughout history, both recent and ancient, the meanings of words have been affected by (a) people who write dictionaries and glossaries, prescriptivist or otherwise, (b) people who correct malapropisms, misspellings, mispronunciations, etc. (e.g., teachers), (c) people who write styleguides or invent jargon (i.e., people who practice prescriptivism within a particular context other than the language as a whole), and (d) people who set forth prescribed rules for the definitions or usage of words and grammar (many countries have a central authority for this, and the languages see periodic revision by them. I'm thinking of Spain, Germany, and Japan, in particular). No word is exempt from this, and the effect of prescriptivism on the word is so inextricable that I would say that it's not really appropriate to think of some words as being "more" affected by prescriptivism. Some words, however, are affected by prescriptivism in a manner that is generally well-known, always because there is some debate, often from prescriptive descriptivists (sorry, dmh), as to whether the popular definition is "valid" or "acceptable". </Jun-Dai>
Implicitly, I responded to your point that "all" words are affected, by noting that less than one percent of Wiktionary words currently indicate any form of contention. Therefore, I'm saying what you say is erroneous is in fact an error: less than one percent of the words are the likely candidates for this category. If the depiction of the name as erroneous is erroneous, then therefore I'm still at a loss as to how the category name is at all insulting to anyone, anyhow, anywhere. The more I think on it, the less I like "Disputed usage" as most of the time, there is little (or insignificant) dispute remaining. (I really did like the term at first.) I'd still like to know how this category title (the words "English words affected by prescriptivism") is "anti-prescriptivist." --Connel MacKenzie 23:21, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 23:39, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)> The title of this category does not in any way include the word or idea of contention. All words are affected by prescriptivism, but not all words are disputed. All of the words in the Disputed usage category, however, are actually disputed (i.e., there are actually people disagreeing with a particular prescriptivist view of the word), and that sets them apart from the bulk of the English language. </Jun-Dai>
Jun-Dai, you and I disagree on the connotation of "affected" but that's OK. You said "The title of this category does not in any way include the word or idea of contention" and I can only hope that Eclectology and/or agrees with your statement, or this may just continue forever.
Having read your last reply, I see now why I was initially more comfortable with "Disputed usage." But I think the majority of the words I found doing my cute little search on the word "Usage" turned out to be pure prescription, with no dispute whatsoever. That is why I'm less comfortable with "Disputed usage" now than I was at first.
Now, is there at least some consensus on dmh's suggestion of using a template? Perhaps there should be two or three? {{cdu}}, {{cewabp}}, {{cewabpad}}? The original intent of this category I still think is worthwhile; with the templates in place I for one could still contribute something more meaningful than my opinion. And the battle can rage on until your typing fingers fall off, reverting only the contents of the templates willy-nilly. --Connel MacKenzie 05:49, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 06:18, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)> "But I think the majority of the words I found doing my cute little search on the word "Usage" turned out to be pure prescription, with no dispute whatsoever."
Well, just 'cause the usage notes need to be rewritten doesn't mean that the category title isn't any good. In fact, it's even better that way, because it makes our work pretty clearly cut out for us. This dictionary is going to be a prescriptivist resource, and there's no denying or avoiding that, but we should pretend to be a descriptivist resource as much as is feasible. As such, any degree of prescriptivism that we allow should be a matter of emphasis (giving disproportional weight to the people who exert more a powerful and commanding influence on the language --lexicographers, editors, professors, etc.) and omission (skipping common typoes, mispronunciations, and malapropisms that aren't really disputed) rather than any sort of explicit declaration of "incorrect"-ness or direct discouragement. The only time the issue of correctness (which we will always discuss indirectly, through means of emphasis) should come up are in disputed usages, which should then be in our disputed usage category.</Jun-Dai>
Jun-Dai, I think it is irresponsible to suggest that all usage notes "need" to be rewritten. --Connel MacKenzie 17:17, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 11:25, 13 Jan 2005 (UTC)> Irresponsible? why? If a usage note is suffering from prescritionismization, then surely it needs to be rewritten, yes? If most of them are suffering from it, then most of them need to be rewritten, yet? I never suggested that they _all_ be rewritten, just the ones that "pure prescription". We don't want prescritionismization in any form to be directly contained in the wiktionary's approach to its definitions, do we? That would be a clear violation of NPOV. Or have I misunderstood what you meant by prescritionismization? </Jun-Dai>

Jun-Dai, I think it is irresponsible for a couple reasons.

  • I personally disagree that Wiktionary should be purely descriptive.
  • I personally disagree that Wiktionary should prohibit prescription.
  • Definition entries do not suffer from prescriptionism. Definitions with prescription enlighten readers.
  • As you pointed out above, people look up a word in a reference looking for how the word is *supposed* to be used. If a usage note is softened, there is likely to be more reader confusion, not less.
  • If a "Usage note" sounds condescending, it should be rewritten to be NPOV. But a "Usage note" is fine if it is prescriptive; I would say that is an indication that it is a good "Usage note."

P.S. prescritionismization was a sad failed attempt at humor. So yes, I guess you did misunderstand what I meant. --Connel MacKenzie 10:03, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 18:56, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)> Any usage not that is purely prescriptive (is this what you meant by "pure prescription") should be rewritten. If you look at most dictionaries, the usage notes actually describe descriptive content to qualify their more prescriptive word definitions. The whole point of a usage not is that it not explain which usage is "incorrect" but common, rather that it explain who thinks a given usage is incorrect and why, and who uses it. While we cannot be purely descriptive (I don't know who you are arguing against with regard to that), we should aim to maintain a descriptive tone, and avoid prescriptive angles such as "this usage is incorrect" or "this usage is erroneous". Prescriptive definitions do not enlighten readers. On the contrary, their goal is to improve the language at the expense of enlightening the readers, by providing them with a false framework wherein definitions are capable of being incorrect or erroneous. If a usage note is blatantly prescriptive it should and will be rewritten. All of our prescriptivism should exist purely in terms of effects and should not actually exist in the writing itself--much like the title of this category, which is non-NPOV in effect, even though there is nothing non-NPOV within the text per se. </Jun-Dai>

Jun-Dai, when I said those notes are pure prescription, bah... Come on. Please do the search yourself, and look at some of those entries. No, they are not "pure prescription" in the sense you are using, they are "good" combinations of the two. I'm not sure how you define "prescription" and that seems to be the source of our misunderstanding each other on this thread. Because I understand the word "prescription" differently than you, the rest of your points seem nonsensical to that the way *I* am thinking of the word (however correctly or incorrectly) I believe a usage note does inform and enlighten. Again, that seems to be the root of our misunderstanding each other. Even better, if we really are getting closer to an acceptable category name (See below) then let's let this odd dispute drop. --Connel MacKenzie 21:05, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I'm still not convinced that "prescriptivist" is anything other than an ad hominem expression. If it were to be used each such article should indicate just who the prescriptivists are. It is certainly unclear who the prescriptivists are in the "tidal wave" dispute. If you support the "scientific" definition then the supporters of the "traditional" definition are the prescriptivists, but this could be argued just as easily the other way around. That's what makes the term POV, or at least meaningless.
Interesting; I did not know about the "to the man" connotation of "prescriptivist." --Connel MacKenzie 17:17, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)
We also need to get away from the notions of "correct" and "incorrect", or at least not attaching so much importance to them. Somebody above mentioned the sentence, "Her is going too fast," as a basis for correcting a child. That's a prescriptivist attitude. That construction is common among speakers of Jamaican English. Are you suggesting that Jamaicans be told that their English is inferior? Let's just stick to documented descriptions that show who has been using the word in such a way, without needing to be argumentative about it, or to pass judgement about it.
I would suggest that Jamaican speakers understand that what they commonly say is viewed as ridiculous outside of Jamaica. In such a case, it is clearly "incorrect." --Connel MacKenzie 17:17, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)
That's a great example of a prescriptivist attitude. Eclecticology 20:00, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I agree. Decades ago, when I grew up in NY, I never got beat up for being a presciptivist. Being an asshole, occasionally, but never because I corrected someone. Never for miscorrecting them either.
I think it would be a disservice for Wiktionary to adopt a purely descriptive attitude. If people are to refer to Wiktionary, there ought to be some indication that Wiktionary prescibes against using some words in some contexts. --Connel MacKenzie 10:03, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I suppose I should have qualified that with "parents who say 'she is going too fast'" or some such. The child's usage wouldn't work too well for parents who expected "ze gaat te snel" either, but I didn't mention that. In any case, "correctness" in acquisition is relative to the speakers you're trying to emulate. As an aside, are you sure this actually is Jamaican usage? Jamaican certainly uses "me" and "them" in the nominative, but I'm not completely convinced this generalizes. For example a random page on "Speaking Jamaican" has examples like:
  • Mi wud radda yu nuh chat to mi. (I'd rather you didn't talk to me)
  • Dem a wan no good bunch (They're one no-good bunch)
  • Im mek up im mind areddy. (he's made up his mind alredy)
  • Cuyah, she gwan lak she nice eee? (She's acting like she's nice)
  • She a mi bess bess fren. (She's my best friend)
In any case, it looks like, amid the tsunami of verbiage on this page and others, we're actually not that far from consensus on "prescriptivisim". I hope -dmh 17:39, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)
My personal experience with that usage of "her" goes back to a time when I lived in Toronto, in a neighbourhood where there were a lot of Jamaican immigrants. Eclecticology 20:00, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Sounds good to me. -dmh 18:10, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
The advantage of a category like "disputed usage" is that it does not take either side in the dispute. Eclecticology 10:53, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)
And the disadvantage is that most often, there is little or no dispute as to what is being prescribed. --Connel MacKenzie 17:17, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Every dispute does not need described in detail. The simple fact that usages need to be distinguished shows that there was some level of dispute at some time in the word's history. But then I'm less committed to Category:Disputed usage which was part of an attempt to find a compromise that would rid us of the "prescriptivist" label. Eclecticology 20:00, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Well, may I suggest Category:Use notes (i.e. articles with notes on the use of a word) then? --Connel MacKenzie 10:03, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 18:47, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)> For the time being that might be a good idea, though in the long run it would be nice if most or all entries had usage notes. </Jun-Dai>

Agreed. I dislike the idea of removing any usage note. I think categorizing words is orthogonal to improving or rewriting usage notes. I think dmh's suggestion back in (#One) is useful; just seach for usage notes to initially populate the category. As a secondary goal, use the category to standardize the format of the usage notes (via template?) --Connel MacKenzie 21:05, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 21:25, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)> This sounds like a good idea, though I hope that in time there will be so many usage notes that the category will become essentially useless :) Anyways, we can list Disputed usage as a sub-category, since all terms in the category need usage notes at some point. This actually relates a little to something I want to talk about soon, which is our approach to jargon and jargonistic usage (and jargon-related categories, which I think should be codified before too long). But I'll save this for another week. </Jun-Dai>

Template consensus?Edit

Can people please offer their opinions on suggested names of templates to be used for 1) disputed words, (e.g. tidal wave) 2) Prescriptively cautioned words (e.g. irregardless) 3) Accepted words adopted through description (e.g. data) 4) Words ancillary to disputed words (e.g. tsunami) and 5) Any other meaningful potential category as it relates to this discussion? Who knows, maybe they will eventually work out to be sub-categories all grouped together. --Connel MacKenzie 16:59, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Why do we need these templates in the first place? If it's just about categories, what's wrong with just placing a category marker on the page, whatever the chosen categories are? The use of unnecessary templates only serves to add an other level of complexity to the system. Eclecticology 20:23, 12 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I liked the idea of using a template to propagate the category for several reasons:
  1. The current category name is too long.
  2. Enough people object to the current name, so a renaming is likely - in a template it's insto-presto-magically done.
  3. Graphically inclined folks could add a goofy logo and an offical looking box around the note.
  4. The 'revert war' could be limited to the template, so the various articles in question are a fait accompli and don't get lost in the shuffle.
--Connel MacKenzie 10:27, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I don't see templates as adding complexity for someone who's just editing entries. They add small amounts of work for those setting up the templates, but this shouldn't matter. Editing should be a much more frequent activity than template-making. Wrapping categories in templates allows for adding explanatory text, which is used to good effect with rfc and rfd, and also appears to work will with tagging specialized senses (see the discussion of Template:Hoops on the rfd page). It also allows for renaming of categories, which seems not to be possible right now (or at least I couldn't make it work). -dmh 18:10, 14 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Other words under some similar influencesEdit

I'm still under a self-imposed cooling off period with regard to this article, so I am no longer up-to-date with it. However I've had some thoughts I'd like to add before I forget them. Forgive me if what I say is redundant due to edits between my last input and now which I have not yet read.

download & upload

I doubt that the use of the words is disputed and I haven't seen much prescriptivism at work. However, almost everybody I know or meet on a day-to-day basis, except computer-literate friends uses "download" to mean transfer or copy electronic data from one thing to another thing. It is used not only used to mean "upload" but also for copying files onto a floppy disk, burning MP3s onto a CD, transferring photos from a digital camera, transferring MP3s to or from a computer, etc.

This is interesting and, as a computer-literate person, I regard these uses of "download" as incorrect and they irk me. I do not correct anybody who uses them because doing so makes me feel like a pedant. But a modern dictionary needs to describe how people really think.

What other words see the same phenomenon? What would be a succinct way to describe this phenomenon? What would be a good name for a category?

This looks like a clear case of metaphoric extension in a radial category. It's no better or worse than cup coming to mean a tournament for which the prize is a trophy in the general shape of a cup one can drink from. -dmh 06:19, 16 Jan 2005 (UTC)

killer whale & orca
koala bear & koala

So an orca is not a whale and a koala is not a bear. In each case one term is more traditional and more technical. In both cases both terms are still frequently used. In both cases, users of the more traditional forms are corrected by other people.

What other words see the same phenomenon? What would be a succinct way to describe this phenomenon? What would be a good name for a category?

This seems entirely analogous to the dreaded tidal wave. A koala is, in fact, a bear. You can tell because it looks like a bear. On the other hand, zoologists have taken a more careful look and determined — quite correctly, of course — that koalas and other things called bears are not closely related at all. This gives rise to a technical definition of bear, under which a koala is not a bear, analogous to the technical definition of tide under which a tidal wave is not tidal.
Mellville goes to considerable length in Moby Dick discussing the then-vexed question of whether a whale is a fish, and also brings the term "right whale" into the discussion. There are several taxa which started as ordinary folk species and expanded, with the original prototype given the title "right", "true" or "proper". I think all that's going on here is that folk species and biological species agree most of the time, so often, in fact, that the exceptions seem jarring.

alsatian & German shepherd

My dad was always very irked by pedants, nit-pickers, smart arses etc, and hated being corrected. However, as an owner of German shepherds, he would never fail to correct anybody who called one of his dogs an alsatian.

What other words see the same phenomenon? What would be a succinct way to describe this phenomenon? What would be a good name for a category?

Putting everything under a big fat fuzzy category of "disputed usage" cannot possibly be the best answer. Not all are disputed. My category of "affected by prescriptivism" also is no catch-all category. What on earth is wrong with finding several terms or groups of terms which are subject to the same phenomena and creating a category to link them all so that interested parties can browse them and have a good old think about a little aspect of their language which might not be so well-known. It's interesting - why blur it all? They're just harmless little categories that you can safely ignore if you don't see things the same way. It really seems to me that some contributors feel hurt that their use that they like to think is the "one correct and superior" way is not the only viewpoint. Whatever happened to NPOV?

Personally, I don't have a problem with having such a category or several such. I'm more interested in concise names, but that's not such an issue if we wrap categories in templates. I would put decimate and podium in the particular subcategory of "terms that people like to 'correct' for selectively applied 'logical' reasons despite overwheliming usage to the contrary". I would put tidal wave, killer whale and koala bear in the category "popular usage conflicts with strict technical usage".
I would put both categories under "things you're likely to be corrected for even though there's a legitimate case for them" and that in turn would go under "disputed usage" (or might actually be "disputed usage") -dmh 06:19, 16 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Dictionary definitions & technical definitions

For some time, way before any of this came up, I have been thinking about how there are different ways to define a concept, word, etc.

Dictionaries try to describe how words are used, and how to use them correctly

Technical definitions are defining not the words, but the concepts.

It seems that these two types of definitions sometimes stay apart and sometimes cross, and sometimes one is held as a basis for the other. Some respected dictionaries fall into this trap as can be seen in the case of tidal wave and tsunami.

Here's an example. The word "second", in the unit of time sense.

In the dictionary senses, the definition has not changed. It has always meant "one sixtieth of a minute in duration".

In the technical sense, it has changed through history to reflect the state of technology and possibly other factors. The current technical definition is the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom at zero kelvins - taken straight from Wikipedia.

Obviously, we have been using seconds for the same meaning since long before we became aware of "periods of radiation", "ground states", "hyperfine levels", "caesium", "kelvins", and possibly even "atom".

dmh's work illustrates that "tide" has, in an identical way, a common sense and a technical sense, except that in this case the latter has come to influence the former, to the extent that in the minds of many the former is just plain wrong and has never been right.

Before this debate I was wondering how to include technical definitions. In the case of "second" the sense of both defs is the same, only the accuracy and the fact that the tech def is based on comparison with a certain phenomenon are different. Therefore we have one sense with two defs, which is different from the current system of numbered senses and sometimes subsenses. This would still be very useful to include both in a nicely formatted way that doesn't confuse the reader.

Since this debate, maybe it's even important that we have a conscious distinction between common and technical definitions for the same sense of the same word. — Hippietrail 03:15, 15 Jan 2005 (UTC)

The definition of second should be split up. I also like the idea of calling out "technical" and "popular" senses explicitly. The template/tag/category approach seems applicable here. -dmh 06:19, 16 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Is this ready for a Beer Parlor vote?Edit

How does one move this to the beer parlor for vote? (I've never paticipated in a beer parlor vote before.) Are we at a point now where we know what we want to vote on? I can think of a few things:

1) Use/Usage note (umbrella category) Y/N
2) Name of that category Nominate your own text. (My nomination was/is "Use notes")
3) Use subcat. 1 Y/N
4) Name of 1st subcat Nominate text. (prescriptivism, et. al)
5) Use subcat. 2 Y/N
6) Name of 2ns subcat Nominate text. (Technical vs. popular)
7) Use subcat. 3 Y/N
8) Name of 3rd Nominate text. (Disputed uses)
9) Use of templates to populate categories Y/N (As Jun-dai pointed out, this seems silly now, as they do NOT propogate automatically) Again, as far as I can tell they do (the bug has probably been fixed). Templates and categories work quite well together in general. -dmh 18:21, 15 Feb 2005 (UTC)
10) Name of templates Nominate text. (never mind)
11) Use of compund templates to populate category + subcategory Y/N
12) Use of template for cute thinggy for "Usage Note" Y/N
13) Use of template for boilerplate "Usage note" Y/N


I think it would be prudent to hear from main players on this thread, that it's time to vote, minimally: ec, ht, dmh, jd.

Are all five of us willing to abide by the results of the votes? At least until such time as one of them is re-voted on? (i.e. we find out something just won't work; go back and vote on it all over.)

I guess most importantly, is Eclecticology. Although I strongly disagre with your recent tactics, you are the head honcho; you've been here forever (as per your user page - which I've no reason to doubt) and you deserve more than just a smantering of respect. I certainly respect the generous years you've put into this already. And I also respect your many many many thoughtful contributions. So my question is, can you agree to abide by a vote, or is it silliness that you'd simply exercise veto power on (i.e. unplug the boxen)?

And harboring the same fear; what *is* Wiktionary's policy regarding Categories? Can I just create one? Or a hundred? Should they be namespaced? Or protected? Um, they can't be protected, right? Who can undo one?

By wiktionary policy, Is it OK to remove a category from an article, if you don't know why someone else put the category in there for? (excluding vandals, of course.) This seems to be the issue that caused the most animosity during this round.

At a very minimum, simply knowing what the official policy is would help. Or is the whole Wiki policy regarding categories issue simply a separate Beer Parlor topic/vote? --Connel MacKenzie 22:06, 17 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Thank you for the flattery - *(blush)* - but I avoid terms like "head honcho", though I do accept being more "senior" than most here. Nevertheless, there are still 27 people with ID numbers lower than mine on wiktionary. I can be as argumentative as anyone here, but I also believe in the Wiki ideal that solutions can be negotiated when everyone is looking for alternatives. The biggest role that seniority can play in the situation is to bring a sense of continuity.
If you review all my comments in this thread there is really only one point where I have firmly dug in my heels. That is in my objection to a term which I consider to be unnecessarily labelling people. This is consistent with the Wikimedia principle of no personal attacks. I believe those who would say that no personal attack was intended, but personal attacks are to be judged with reference to those who may reasonably feel attacked. Such aggressive turns of phrase should especially be avoided when ample alternatives are available.
Any objections that I may have on other matters in this debate come from somehere else, but I don't believe that votes will solve anything. The more minute details that you attach to rules, the more people will be inclined to ignore them. I'm really indifferent on whether we should have "Use notes" in place of "Usage notes". Out of habit I am likely to continue using the latter, but if someone chooses the other I'm not about to follow them and edit an article just to change that back every time that I see it.
With templates it is unsafe to presume that anyone participating in this discussion will be involved in the project at the end of the year. We are affected not just by our current enthusiasm, but by unrelated events in our personal lives, and that inevitable nemesis of bright people, boredom. The Wiki is so often a refuge for the chronically bored genius. It is also in the nature of such people to seek their own solutions, which are often quite different from one another. That takes documentation, a boring practice that is alien to the creative mind. The KISS principle extends to keeping it so simple that another genius will understand and accept it. That is a difficulty with templates: They are very convenient for those who understand them, but an ever growing number of templates means that any one person will only know and use a small subset of what is available. The validity of any tool that we develop is tested not by us, but by the next generation of users.
Adding or removing a category from an article is really just another edit. If the issue is about whether a particular article belongs in that category there should be discussion on that article's talk page. If the issue is about that category's validity in general a page like this one will develop.
What categories we should have remains an open question. Shortly after Wikimedia introduced the idea to the software, I tried to start a discussion on it but got nowhere. I'll save my thoughts on the details for another time and place. There seems to be a bug in the software that prevents us from completely ridding ourselves of a category even when we all agree. We may remove references to it from all articles that contain it, and delete any description on its own page, but it still remains in red on the list of categories. Anybody can create a category, and anybody can blank it just like a regular article. "Category:" is already a namespace. They are subject to the same "rules" about deletion or protection as any other article.
Having "official" policy on anything depends on people being "official" enough to generate and enforce that policy. My seniority is not accompanied by any such officialdom. There are some major principles that guide all projects in the Wikimedia family, but these are really very few, and involve respect for NPOV, copyright, the individual, anonymity, and openness. Beyond that each project has broad autonomy in its policy making, and in my mind that comes down to whatever worka, preferably without a lot of divisive votes about policy. That would be too "prescriptive". :-) Eclecticology 18:58, 18 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Thanks for the thoughful response. I'm still baffled as to *why* you think prescriptivism is a labelling deragatory term, when my research of the word (ableit limited) either turns up no such association, or at worst only a slight hint of a possible negative connotation. But you do, so it's a moot point.
Since you imply that you won't necessarily respect the results of a vote, and in the past you have participated in obliterating any reference to this category from other pages, do *YOU* have a replacement category name? I'd like to see this resolved somehow. I think the umbrella category Use note (or Usage notes) would be a fine start, with whatever subcategories (excepting anthing mentioning a deragatory term) evolve. Can the interested parties here agree on that much? (Please respond with a Yes or No.) --Connel MacKenzie 21:42, 20 Jan 2005 (UTC)
I did previously apply Category:Disputed usage to several of the pages in question, but more as alternative than as something that I planned to defend. A category term containing the word "notes" seems a little odd unless the whole article is a "note". It seems more suited to a part of an article as is now done. Eclecticology 07:04, 22 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Two things:
1. I'd like to apologize for the harsh tone of my previous post. This is frustrating.
2. Category:Usage warnings ?
I still see value in having these types of articles categorized together, somehow. Is there any name for the category that is general enough? --Connel MacKenzie 07:15, 22 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 09:38, 22 Jan 2005 (UTC)> Before doing that, we should define what it is that we're trying to categorize. We are not entirely on the same page regarding this, which means we're not likely to agree or even fully understand each other when it comes to the nomenclature. The other way to do it, of course, is to come up with the nomenclature, and then try to define what that nomenclature covers. Here is my view.

  • 1. Disputed usage: means that there is some disagreements as to how a term should be used, or which term should be used in a given situation.
  • 2. Usage warning: means that there is some danger regarding the usage—perhaps you will find yourself corrected or assaulted for using the word in a certain way.
  • 3. Use note: simply means that there is a note in the entry explaining how the word should be used (ideally most words will have this).
  • 4. Anti-prescribed (?) terms: terms that are prescribed against by some group of people somewhere for some reason, all of which should be explained somewhere in the entry.
  • 5. Technical terms: this is misleading and should be avoided. See Category:Jargon
  • 6. Misnomers: this could be considered non-NPOV, but it refers to terms whose literal, descriptive definition (i.e., the sum of its parts) is at odds with what it is actually used to refer to (e.g., killer whale [not actually a whale], koala bear [not actually a bear], Adelaide ruby [not actually ruby], American Indian [not actually Indian], etc.). Conventional (but apparently incorrect) wisdom suggests that tidal wave is a misnomer.
  • 7. Perjorative/offensive terms: this refers to terms that are considered by some people to be perjorative/offensive in meaning or connotation, and would be prescribed against except where the perjorative connotation is intended.
  • 8. Commonly misused terms and phrases: this could refer to terms that are commonly misused (possible non-NPOV), such as criteria, impeachment, comprise, beg the question, etc. (clearly there are varying degrees of what is considered "incorrect")

Obviously there are plenty more categories we could construct, but those are just some that I'm throwing out there that are at least somewhat aligned with the various things we've been talking about (i.e., prescriptivism in its various forms).</Jun-Dai>

Your suggestion is certainly much better than lumping all of these together in one big category. What makes something like "tidal wave" a misnomer is that it was incorrectly applied when it was first coined, long before any of us were born. Since then much has been written with this wrong use. All we can do is indicate these two facts and let people decide for themselves. Using the category Disputed usage was a temporary solution to be applied in any case where there is broad disagreement about the usage, not just among Wiktionarians. Your multiple category scheme takes the pressure off that category, though this or even something like "Usage problems" could probably still be used as a hyper-category of categories.
Usage warning may be a strong term. We don't want people to feel paranoid about using wrong words. Attitudes about how much one should correct another person's language vary considerably, both with individuals involved and with circumstances. A person for whom English is a second language appreciates some degree of correction, but does not want to be overwhelmed by people who find fault with his every word. It is often a question of how much difference that mistake makes; if there is enough redundancy in the context it is often better to say nothing. If the usage makes them look ridiculous, or has an effect completely contrary to their intent it is better to bring it to their attention.
As I pointed out before Use notes or Usage notes is more suited to being within an article than as a category. If, as you point out, most articles should have such a note, it would become ineffective as a category. Anti-prescribed terms strikes me as a term that will generate arguments rather than solve them. We need to describe the strictly correct use in the article, and we need to describe how common usage has deviated from that position. Stressing the presence of an argument only encourages people to argue. Something more to the point like Plural problem for "data" and "criterion" is far more helpful.
Technical term is too broad, but jargon implies a value judgement. Better to name the category for the specific field of study that employs that term. Pejorative and offensive are best used as categories only to words where that broadly applies. Americans have recently gone through a time when to call someone "French" would be offensive. Other terms depend on their context for their offensiveness.
A balance is always needed over the issue of correct usage. A rigid adherence to rules te4nds to freeze a language in time, but the total acceptance that anything goes creates great ambiguity and uncertainty in our communications. Using a wrong word can have serious unintended effects if the listener understands the word differently. There are other errors where the wrong form is relatively harmless. In your comments you used the word "perjorative" when it should be "pejorative". I've seen this error before, and those who make the error probably do so in the belief that they are doing so correctly. The wrong term here has no competing meaning so the effect is negligible except in the way it may reflect on the user. Similarly, "irregardless" is often criticised as an illiterate usage, but it creates no ambiguities. On the other hand I have recently seen people use proscribe when they intend prescribe, but these two are almost antonyms. Proscribe is normally a less common word, but I need to pause whenever I encounter it. Eclecticology 20:55, 22 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 05:44, 24 Jan 2005 (UTC)> I agree with all of your points, except one. I've never heard of the word jargon as having a negative connotation. In any case, it's a useful word that has no synonyms for describing terms that have a specific definition within a field of study that simply isn't applicable to the rest of the language (e.g., velocity in physics, enumeration in computer science/programming, and rational in mathematics); you will find yourself corrected using a general sense of the term if you are operating within that field of study, yet the term is entirely appropriate in other formal and academic contexts. Technical term isn't really precise enough, or rather it is just a general term for describing the term that covers a specific idea without ambiguity ("... I believe that's the technical term for it."); it simply doesn't mean the same thing as jargon does. Lingo is much closer to jargon, but rather than referring to words or specific meanings of words that are only used within a field of study, it simply refers to a dialect or manner of speaking specific to a social group as defined by profession. This also is distinct from jargon. So where are we without the term jargon? </Jun-Dai>
For me jargon is a kind of specialized language used by students of a particular field. Those outside of the field use it with negative connotations when they see it as a way to exclude them from the conversation. My Oxford includes the definition, "a form of language regarded as barbarous, debased or hybrid." Your observation about "velocity" and "rational" seem contrary to what I would expect. Specialists in those fields would tend to favour the precise meaning, but outsiders would be the ones to opt for the more general usage. I'm not familiar with the use of "enumeration" in computers; for me it is the process of drawing up lists of eligible voters for an election. The category for these technical terms should really vary according to the field of study. Even if we opt for "jargon" we will soon find that category overwhelmed by a lot of unrelated words. Eclecticology 02:09, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 02:34, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)> Interesting. In any case, I wasn't suggesting it as a category in and of itself, but simply a super-category for containing all the field-specific categories of jargonistic terminology (as opposed to categories that simply contain terms with definitions associated with a field of study, which we already have). In any case, I don't see it as a matter of precision or distinctness: the physics definition of velocity is simply at odds with the term's definition in the general world, and includes information that the general-world definition fo the term does not (i.e., the velocity of an ojbect in the physics sense can distinct from the velocity of an object outside of it's physics sense, and yet both apply to the same thing--that is to say a fast-moving plane may be said to have tremendous velocity in the normal world, but in physics, it could have less velocity than a cat travelling along the direction against which we are measuring velocity, or it could even have negative velocity). This is even clearer in the mathematical sense of rational, which bears no direct relationship to what most people would consider the term to mean, and could have nothing in common with other jargonistic uses of the term (does psychology have a jargonistic definition of rational?). It's not an issue of precision--the definitions are often completely apart from the general (read: non-jargonistic) definitions of the word, and only bear some sort of etymological relationship (as with rational)--rather, it's an issue of being well-defined and distinct from the usage outside of the field of study.
BTW, an enumeration in the computing world refers to (this is my definition, and not an official one) a data structure or variable that contains (or refers to) one object or value from an explicitly defined set of possible ones.
In any case, the only thing I can think of to substitute for jargon is dialect, which probably should be qualified somehow to indicate that what is being referred to is dialect associated with a profession, trade, or field of study. </Jun-Dai>
"Velocity" in the physics sense is directed motion. Negative velocity would suggst that the object is travelling in the opposite direction. The physicist would use "speed" to mean what non-physicists intend by velocity. The mathematical sense of "rational" is used in very limited circumstances, as in the expression "rational number"; this usage is less likely to conflict with the psychological usage.
"Dialect" should probably be reserved for more localised terminology such as Scottish or Texas dialect. I agree that we are looking for a super-category, and that probably makes it less urgent. How about "specialized terminology"? Eclecticology 17:48, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)
"Specialized terminology" sounds really good to me. BTW, enumerating in java means a couple things, but sounds similar to your list of voters example. When traversing a sparse array, you enumerate the array to be able to reference individual items; a method exists for that item then, to get to the "next" item in the enumerated list. --Connel MacKenzie 17:59, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 19:44, 26 Jan 2005 (UTC)> I believe that's generally referred to as "iterating" over an array. In any case, I'm okay with "specialized terminology", though I think it loses something of its technical distinction, and I've never once encountered what struck me as a negative connotation of the term jargon. Anyways, to be clear, would you consider something like mouse in reference to the computer input device as being "specialized terminology"? I wouldn't include it within "jargon", because it's not limited to people studying a particular field, and it doesn't have an especially well-defined definition in its general use (though there may be--and probably is--one amongst computer engineers). It would, however, be appopriate in a category for terms relating to computers, which isn't what I'm trying to define. But, as you say, it is not urgent. </Jun-Dai>
I do not know what you mean Jun-Dai. I've never heard a positive connotation for jargon. I have always heard the word used negatively. The word jargon implies a group, closed to outsiders. And the word jargon "tastes" wrong, and impolite.
BTW, when I'm programming in Java, I often iterate over an enumeration of items in a hashtable. So I guess on that, we are almost saying the same thing. --Connel MacKenzie 07:51, 1 Feb 2005 (UTC)
If I had to make that decision, I would say, "Yes." I see the usage for computers as specialized in contrast to the usual meaning of a mouse as a small rodent. But I would not add Category:Specialized terminology directly to the "mouse" article. Instead I would put mouse in Category:Computers, and that category turn would be in our hyper-category. Eclecticology 07:40, 28 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I for one, am in no great rush to start categorizing entries into sub-categories, while the prospect of a renewed debate looms over the super-category. --Connel MacKenzie 04:45, 29 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 15:56, 1 Feb 2005 (UTC)> Yeah. I decided to abandon my Jargon category for some later date, when this issue can be resolved in a more satisfactory manner. </Jun-Dai>

Consolidated conversationEdit

I went through the comments above, and summarized what I saw as reaching some sort of agreement.

After each heading section, I offer my wording of what I think the category entry itself should look like, based on the above discussions.

Do you four agree that the following represents what is here? Are there any remaining complaints? Are the relative arrangements adequate? Are there any remaining that are still too loaded, but could be worded otherwise? Is anyone likely to resume the revert war if these are followed? --Connel MacKenzie 23:08, 4 Feb 2005 (UTC)

  • Main category:

Usage TopicsEdit

Main category of all words that have usage notes. Words appearing in this master category will also appear in at least one lower sub-category.

Disputed usageEdit

Words in this category have usages that are prescibed by some parties, but that prescription is disputed by other parties. Each usage note must be clear who is prescribing, and who is disputing the usage.

Commonly misused termsEdit

Words in this category have usage notes that prescribe "correct" usage of a term. Each usage note must be clear as to who is prescribing it. If any dispute as to the prescription exists, the term must be moved permenently to category:Disputed usage.

Possibly misused termsEdit

Words in this category have usage notes that prescribe "correct" usage of a term, but are unclear as to who prescribed it or why it is prescribed.


This category is for terms whose literal, descriptive definition (i.e., the sum of its parts) is at odds with what it is actually used to refer to (e.g., killer whale [which is not actually a whale], koala bear [which is not actually a bear], Adelaide ruby [not actually ruby], American Indian [not actually Indian], etc.).

I would put this slightly differently. These are terms where a well-accepted technical definition is at odds with a well-accepted common definition. When I was on the reservation, Indians consistently self-identified as Indians, knowing full well that they weren't from India. Were they wrong? Does it matter that "Native American" has been put forth as an alternative? Does it matter that "Native American", strictly speaking, encompases anyone born in the Americas? Does it matter that, as far as we can tell, there have been multiple waves of immigration into the Americas, each displacing the last, and so even "Aboriginal" would be subject to dispute, even leaving connotation aside?
<Jun-Dai 03:20, 17 Feb 2005 (UTC)> The idea is that people using the term are not wrong, but that the term itself falsely indicates something about its meaning. People are not wrong when they use misnomers, and you are not wrong if you use the term "American Indian," but the term itself falsely indicates that the person/people in question are Indian.
Also, the term "Native American" is not a misnomer, because strictly speaking, "native," in general usage when describing an ethnicity, refers to a group of people whose ethnic heritage in a location dates back some amount of time measured in (centuries? millenia?). If you refer to someone as a "native American," meaning that they were born in the U.S., then you are not using the term "Native American," which has a distinct and restricted meaning, you are simply using the words "native" and "American" in combination.
The difference between the term "Native American" and the term "American Indian," is that the former defines a group of people that are in fact Americans who are native (i.e., all things that are referred to by the term are accurately described by the words that compose the term). The same is not true for "American Indian," which is why it is a misnomer. </Jun-Dai>
In any case, I'm not comfortable with implying that a Koala "really isn't" a bear, just because it isn't closely related to other things commonly called bear. Whether it is or isn't depends on who's talking, just as whether a beer is a bear or a beer depends on whether you're speaking Dutch or English. Rather than trying to designate a category, it might be better just to say, under bear:
<Jun-Dai 03:20, 17 Feb 2005 (UTC)> This is, of course, the crux of the idea of misnomerhood. :) If we do not agree that a Koala is not a kind of bear, then we also do not agree that koala bear is a misnomer. They go hand in hand. If we put it to a vote, however, I would vote that a koala is not a bear, thus making the term koala bear a misnomer. Shall we put it to a vote? I don't think we have a procedure for this sort of thing yet. </Jun-Dai>
  1. (zoology) A mammal belonging to family Ursidae ...
  2. (colloquial) Any of a number of animals um ... how does one precisely say "that look like bears"?, including Ursidae, along with koalas and sloths and whatever else.
and then have koala bear as
  1. (colloquial) a koala
and koala as
  1. A marsupial, Phascolarctos cinereus ... also commonly known as a "koala bear".
Finally, each of these should have the others under see also.

How about "Words that have changed meaning" as the category name?

This way it could include terms like "hermetically sealed" which originally meant the seal was completely ineffective, or "Quantum leap" which in physics meant the smallest possible measurement, but in newspapers and literature came to mean "a change of great importance" / "a huge jump."

Those last two probably could be in a more specific sub-category that shows that they are antonyms of their original meaning.

--Connel MacKenzie 18:22, 16 Feb 2005 (UTC)

The fact that such a large portion of the words in our language have changed over the years may make your category suggestion ineffective. It could be applied to any word with more than one definition. I've never heard "hermetically sealed" used to refer to an ineffective seal. Using it to refer to an airtight seal goes back to the days of mediaeval alchemy. The Greek god Hermes may have been the ultimate mythological embodiment of a wiki. :-) Eclecticology 21:11, 16 Feb 2005 (UTC)
In Greek mythology, nothing/no army could prevent Hemes (winged messenger) from coming and going at will. (I think there was another parable/myth, but google isn't helping me find it at the moment.) I'll try and find a reference, but I understood that something Hermetically sealed in Greek times meant that it was not sealed at all; ultimately the joking reference reversed itself. I'll see what I can dig up.
I am sorry, I still cannot find the exact reference; having done a bit of searching an hour or two ago, I think the story I'm looking for was where Hermes tried to seal the fates (so that they couldn't get out and snip someone's lifeline or something) but they got out, then got out again, and again, (even though he tried and tried.) [Apparently, my Greek mythology knowledge is worse than my spelling.]
Is it really that large a group of words that have changed dramatically? Even in it's widest meaning, I doubt there are 1,000 words that would fall into this general category. (And after a hundred words, I'm sure we'd see a pattern for breaking them down into much more specific groups.) --Connel MacKenzie 23:07, 16 Feb 2005 (UTC)
You said: "It could be applied to any word with more than one definition." I would add the word "conflicting" before "definition." --Connel MacKenzie 23:09, 16 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Plural problemEdit

"data" and "criterion"

Offensive termsEdit

Terms that someone learning English might accidentally use, unaware of the gravity of the connotation. Pejorative.

Specialized TerminologyEdit

This is a main category of groupings. Words appearing in this category will also appear in at least one sub-category.

Each of these sub-categories represent a field, industry or topic that has specialized terminology. For example, second appears in the Physics sub-category.

Note that this is not limited to words that have a second meaning in such a context; kelvins also appears in the same sub-category.

Dental terminologyEdit
Computer terminologyEdit
Grammar terminologyEdit
Mathematics terminologyEdit
Medical terminologyEdit
Physics terminologyEdit
Zoological terminologyEdit

Oh crud. During preview, I saw the nice layout indicating hierarchy, but that is all the way at the top of this page now. --Connel MacKenzie 23:11, 4 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Reconsolidated conversationEdit

  • Main category:
1 Usage Topics

1.1 Disputed usage

1.2 Commonly misused terms 
1.2.1 Possibly misused terms
1.2.2 Misnomers
1.2.3 Plural problem
1.2.4 Offensive terms

1.3 Specialized Terminology 
1.3.1 Dental terminology
1.3.2 Computer terminology
1.3.3 Grammar terminology
1.3.4 Mathematics terminology
1.3.5 Medical terminology
1.3.6 Physics terminology
1.3.7 Zoological terminology

<Jun-Dai 23:43, 4 Feb 2005 (UTC)> I'm still a little concerned with the "specialized terminology" section. I don't think it's that useful to have a categorization of terms that simply have a definition that relates to a field (e.g., database, mouse, monitor). Even if it is useful, I would like to have a separate categorization that is restricted to terms that have specific definitions within a particular field (e.g., velocity, rational, semaphore, etc.) that are not generally used outside of that field. I termed this jargon, but due to objections over the term I'm leaving that category off for now--but I'd hate to see the categorization dropped due to the lack of a better term. </Jun-Dai>

Jun-Dai, I thought the Specialized Terminology section was for words whose meaning conflicts with colloquial use? Are you still talking about such terms, or are you asking for a second Specialized Terminology category that includes them, and all general non-conflicting terms? Or are you suggesting a single sub-category for technical words that conflict with colloquial use, then leave all the other sub-categories as industry lexicons? --Connel MacKenzie 07:15, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 18:20, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)> My understanding for "specialized terminology" is simply that it contains terms related to a field (as opposed to terms only used within the context of that field). I'm not so sure now. But I would like the distinction to be made. Part of the problem, I suppose, is that there is a certain amount of grey area. Is database specialized computer terminology? People use it all the time, and the field of computing doesn't really have a single specialized definition of it that differs from it's general understanding (though many sub-fields might). Same thing with mouse. Anyways, I'd like to see these questions cleared up before I go back to putting words into categories. </Jun-Dai>
I find it hard to see if we really do have a problem. We are really suggesting that "specialized terminology" (or whatever else we choose to call it) as a hyper-category whose members are themselves categories or glossaries. Whether the terms have a separate use outside of the specialty or not should not matter. Eclecticology 21:46, 12 Feb 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 22:46, 15 Feb 2005 (UTC)> My point with this is that the field of computing does not have a clear definition of what a database is (though certain sub-fields of computing might). This, in my view, means that it does not belong in the category that I am attempting to describe (which I formerly referred to as jargon). Many people might consider it "specialized terminology," however, because, even though it (a) doesn't have a clear definition within the field and (b) is used (with the same meaning) by people who are not really conversing within the context of the field (i.e., they may be talking within a business context, or they might be talking about medicine--e.g., referring to a medical database). They might consider it this way simply because the term relates to the field of computers even though the term is not really special to it. I would not want the term database within the category, unless we can establish that (a) the term has a clear and specific meaning that is understood by everyone working within the field, and (b) that meaning is distinct from the general use of the term (which is not clear and specific).
Now, in all the situations that I've seen jargon used lexicographically (I'm not sure how many situations this is, but it's probably not a lot :)), this distinction is clear: jargon refers to terminology that is specific and clearly defined within the context of a particular field. If we use the category name "specialized terminology," however, I fear that this distinction will be lost, and I want to at least clarify whether we intend to keep this distinction, whether or not it is along the lines of what I have prescribed. </Jun-Dai>
I think I agree with Jun-Dai; that is, I was prepared to add entries only that conflict with use outside a particular industry/discipline. That is not what my description above says. That is not what the category name implies. And including words in those categories that do not conflict means that those given sub-sub-categories are then therefore misplaced, if included in this category-tree. I think your request for clarification is wise. I don't know quite how to answer it though.
I think it's reasonable to assume an outside category-tree that represents the larger category Jun-Dai is talking about. Perhaps these specialized terminology categories could be sub-categories of both, perhaps not. It is very difficult to see what this might look like. --Connel MacKenzie 04:13, 13 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I'm glad to see all the thought going into getting this right. I still have a couple of issues:
Disputed usage is described as a heading where different people give different usage advice, which is fine. Unfortunately, most people will only look at the label and they will assume that there is an active ongoing dispute. This is misleading. After plenty of searching I have finally found a couple of other fora where people have argued over "tidal wave" and "tsunami", but not enough to call it a dispute. Using "their" in the singular would be more characteristic of a dispute, some of you can probably think of better examples. I am unable to think of a succinct name for terms which commonly carry questionable / unreliable / unwarranted / ignorant / outdated / "pop" prescriptivist warnings, but which are not accompanied by any visible dispute. — Hippietrail 01:47, 5 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Good work on the consolodation Connel! I consider the subdivisions to be open-ended. There are many other specializations or ways of making errors. Would "contested" usage be more acceptsble than "disputed" usage. As between disputed usage (as we currently consider it) and misused terms there is really a wide spectrum between them. Maybe they can be consolidated into "usage problems". Singular "their" represents a clash of values. For some of us grammatical accord is the important value; for others dealing with a perceived gender inequality is more important. Eclecticology 05:43, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Thank you. It's merely Jun-Dai's list with the comments about it, adapted in. --Connel MacKenzie 07:15, 11 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Now that the conversation seems to have calmed down, are we ready to move this conversation to Wiktionary talk:Categories and form an official page from all this? Is there any aspect still not addressed, i.e. is the rewording of "Disputed Usage" acceptable? --Connel MacKenzie 19:16, 8 Mar 2005 (UTC)


Anyone want to take a stab at consolidating this to Wiktionary:Categories and/or Wiktionary talk:Categories? It seems that some consensus has been reached? Is Category:Usage topics etc. good enough now? --Connel MacKenzie 06:04, 17 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Wiktionary:Requests for deletion/Others - keptEdit

Kept. See archived discussion of 09 2006. 00:30, 20 January 2008 (UTC)

RFD discussion: September 2017–April 2018Edit

The following information has failed Wiktionary's deletion process (permalink).

It should not be re-entered without careful consideration.

--2A02:A03F:3EE7:8100:F484:49D6:26B3:8DE8 22:34, 19 September 2017 (UTC)

And why? Also see Category talk:English words affected by prescriptivism#Wiktionary:Requests for deletion/Others - kept. - 03:46, 5 October 2017 (UTC)
Because it's a nonsensical name, and it's part of a "witch-hunt" against prescriptivism. True descriptivism includes prescriptivism, as a wise man once said. We should rely on {{label|proscribed|nonstandard}} and such instead if we want to have a category. --2A02:2788:A4:F44:448:929:A14:5B56 10:00, 18 October 2017 (UTC)
I don't know if people get pung with a simple link? @Metaknowledge --2A02:2788:A4:F44:448:929:A14:5B56 10:01, 18 October 2017 (UTC)
Firstly, yes, a bare link will ping (although there have been some technical issues with that lately). Secondly, "wise man" is rather off the mark, but thank you for the compliment. Thirdly, delete. —Μετάknowledgediscuss/deeds 16:33, 18 October 2017 (UTC)
This category does seem redundant to Category:English disputed terms (“English terms whose usage is proscribed [] ”). — Ungoliant (falai) 16:46, 18 October 2017 (UTC)
Delete. --Per utramque cavernam (talk) 20:23, 3 January 2018 (UTC)

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