[Thinkpad] OT: lower 48
ross at math.hawaii.edu
Thu Sep 9 15:46:15 CDT 2004
> It is interesting that you would say that the American Heritage
> Princeton University's WordNet 2.0, Merriam-Webster, and the
> Britannica are all "not quite correct."
Not what I said, I said that the *expression* was "not quite correct".
When a dictionary lists several meanings, it is trying to cover all
bases, it doesn't mean that every definition is correct in every
context. In this case, a few of them included the expression "48
contiguous states", which is certainly a common usage and so mentioning
it in the definition is reasonable, just as they might quote someone
respectable saying "ain't".
> I always thought of them as
> reasonably authoritative sources
Free online dictionaries are certainly quite useful, but they are even
less trustworthy than their paper counterparts (which tend to include
more context). As for dictionaries in general, we are trained as
schoolkids to treat them as authoritative references, but really they
represent the 'popular' tip of a scholarly iceberg, rather like the
science and math books that reach the bestseller lists: not actual
research monographs but, rather, popularizations and simplifications.
The philosopher Willard Quine (whose name has actually made it *into*
the OED, "Quinean") used to critically review dictionaries (often in the
NY Review of Books) as a bit of a hobby, and it is hard to read his
reviews without both gaining and losing respect for the genre.
- David R.
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