Re: descriptive vs. prescriptive

Subject: Re: descriptive vs. prescriptive
From: Bill Burns <WBURNS -at- VAX -dot- MICRON -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 6 Sep 1995 15:39:52 MDT

Connie writes:

> When I was a Professional Writing student (only a few years ago),
> my professor made a point that PREscriptive dictionaries, including
> the one my parents had given me as a gift - American Heritage
> (2nd College Edition), were better than DEscriptive dictionaries.
> Which is really another way of saying that a dictionary
> should be a determiner of correct language, not that current
> usage should be the determiner of dictionary content.

I would say that it depends on the purpose for which you use your dictionary.
If you are using a dictionary to determine precise, accurate usage, then
prescriptive dictionaries are a useful tool. If you are trying to determine
common usage, including slang and idiom, or anachronistic usage, a descriptive
dictionary might be more helpful. I wouldn't say one is better than the
other. They simply have different foci (hence, different audiences).

Bill Burns *
Assm. Technical Writer/Editor * LIBERTY, n. One of imagination's most
Micron Technology, Inc. * precious possessions.
Boise, ID *
WBURNS -at- VAX -dot- MICRON -dot- COM * Ambrose Bierce

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