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Joined: August 10, 2011
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Not meaning to digress from the question but expand its context: Who has the "super powers" to dictate what a word means, how it is acceptably pronounced or spelled, how much of the language from which it is drawn is desirable to include, which syllable is to be accented, etc?

The recent publication of a compendium of American English pronunciation by geographical location (including maps and CD's containing native speaker examples) reveals that there are (at least) TWO "camps" on this issue. One might be called the "purist" camp while the other might be the "empirical" side.

The "purists" are dedicated to the maintenance of "formal" or "proper" English usage, spelling & pronunciation, with changes/additions requiring rigorous examination by linguists and other authorities before any modification to reference sources.

The "empiricists" prefer to say that once a word becomes widely accepted and used its addition to reference sources should follow fairly shortly. Hence the verb/noun "fax" is to be found in many references, and "fedex" has almost become a verb. In other instances words like "harass" were previously listed as being pronounced like har'-iss, (the accent on the first syllable, rhyming with the proper name "Harris." However, common usage by Americans led to an equally accepted pronunciation of hur-ass', (with the accent on the second syllable, rhyming with "I really noticed HER ASS").

There have been numerous examples of this, with words like "economics" (pronounced like ee'-koh-nom-iks or eh'-koh-nom-iks) as well as new words, new meanings for existing words (previously called "slang" or "argot" and perhaps even "jargon."

Therefore, how a word "should" be spelled, pronounced and even its meaning depend on the "camp" with which you most identify.

Sadly, I see more & more diction errors e.g., its v. it's - to v. too - capitol v. capital - their v. there v. they're - principle v. principal - threw v. through, etc., where words that sound alike are used interchangeably despite different meanings. Due to the brevity used in text messages, I have been seeing more formal business letters containing shortcuts like "thru" and "nite" and "donut" (this last may have become acceptable usage). Perhaps "lol" or "IMHO" or "FWIW" may show up in a new dictionary soon to be published. The Scrabble® dictionary is a good example: many two-letter words (very valuable to serious players, like me) have been included in the third edition beyond the original 72. One of them is "ed" as in education or "phys-ed" or "co-ed" but there are several more. See how many of the "acceptable" two-letter words you can identify!

In Scrabble®, once an agreement is reached on the source dictionary for the match, all sides are expected to understand the "conventions" used, much like a game of Bridge, where the "signals" of a convention and what the bid means to the partner must be understood by both sets of players. Perhaps this is the ultimate answer: the meaning, spelling & pronunciation of any word is tied to the "context" in which it is used and the understanding of the common "conventions" used by all parties to the communication.

More like "Alice in Wonderland" - "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - - that's all."

DaveyBoy August 10, 2011, 2:53pm

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