Do dictionaries prescribe? (revival of old post)

Subject: Do dictionaries prescribe? (revival of old post)
From: Arthur Comings <atc -at- CORTE-MADERA -dot- GEOQUEST -dot- SLB -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 27 Jul 1994 09:58:10 PDT

I originally wrote:

> >As I understand it, the prescriptive/descriptive debate is ongoing
> >among the creators of dictionaries. It's impossible to accurately say
> >what *all* dictionaries do; this decision a tough call for them, and
> >what they do depends on who's in charge and what guidelines they're
> >following.

And Louise responded:

> All dictionaries prescribe usage. To the extent that people look
> up words in a dictionary and then use them according to what the
> dictionary says, they prescribe usage.

To which I say:

OK, if we use "prescsribe" in a different sense, all dictionaries
prescribe usage. What we were talking about was different, and no light
is shed on it, IMHO, by broadening the use of "prescsribe" in the
middle of the discussion.

What I should have said, to head off an objection like that, was: "Some
dictionaries prescribe by reporting common usages; others prescribe by
telling people how they SHOULD use words."

-- The latter is what is commonly meant by prescriptive dictionary-making.

Arthur Comings

Corte Madera, California
atc -at- corte-madera -dot- geoquest -dot- slb -dot- com

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