Re: descriptive vs. prescriptive

Subject: Re: descriptive vs. prescriptive
From: chuck mccaffrey <cmccaffrey -at- SPYGLASS -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 6 Sep 1995 17:41:35 -0500

In article <199509061738 -dot- NAA14967 -at- dialup -dot- oar -dot- net>, Connie Winch
<CEW -at- macola -dot- usa -dot- com> wrote:

> 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.

> Your thoughts?

> Connie Winch
> cew -at- macola -dot- usa -dot- com

I should think that a good dictionary should be able to find a reasonable
balance between the two. A language isn't static, much as some people
would wish that it were. (And English isn't Latin, much as that dismays
some of the stuffier of pedants.)

Let's try a little thought experiment:

When the first dictionary of English, for example, was written, would it
have been prescriptive or descriptive? If it was prescriptive, then it
could not have been written. If it was descriptive, and by definition it
must have been, that would be a good argument for basing at least some of
the content of and purpose for dictionaries on descriptive use of the
language. Moreover, if every dictionary since that first dictionary were
prescriptive rather than both prescriptive and descriptive, then we would
be speaking/writing/reading a 17th century (give or take some years)
language. We clearly do not. We would have a hard time using 17th
century English to name the concept "computer," let alone be able to
describe what it does.

I would point out, moreover, that your professor was a professional pedant
and that it might have been in her or his personal interest to promote
prescriptive teaching and thinking, that is, to control you and students
like you in order to maintain her or his position (their position?) and
illusion of importance and superiority in this noteworthy example of class
struggle. Fascists, bigots, and other small-minded folk generally do want
to control other people.

Previous by Author: September 21 IPIC Meeting (fwd)
Next by Author: Digest subscription
Previous by Thread: Re: descriptive vs. prescriptive
Next by Thread: Re: descriptive vs. prescriptive

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads