During a brief bout of insanity, I worked as a non-certified court reporter, taking oral testimony outside of court. And during that time, I had failed to be green-lit as an editor for transcripts (which are used as evidence in trial). But aside from the extraordinary lack of proper training, an explicit style guide, or even an outlined chain of command, was the general idea that the Dictionary is the Final Authority. …That, and, upon second thought, almost every other linguistic fallacy was rigidly followed.

1. Dictionary as Final Authority
I suppose in a literal way, the dictionary is a final authority, in the sense that it is last. Think about it: words only get entered and defined in dictionaries after lexicographers (extremely subjectively) observe the emergence of new words and/or usages. Put another way, it’s only after a word has reached a certain saturation point in common culture, that lexicographers will attempt to define and enter a word into their dictionaries. Which is to say, that the in-house 1989 Canadian Oxford Dictionary is woefully behind the times. Especially when you consider the fact that what is being transcribed is spontaneous contemporary speech; not a carefully considered written response. (Corollary: Dictionary between languages are even further behind the times. Between my Japanese friends and me, we found that their only gloss for poignant, was the etymologically original sense of “sad”, as opposed to the more contemporary sense of “apt; sharply felt”.)

2. One Word One Meaning
If I were a little more academic, I’d be able to pull out the term of art for this phenomenon, but the title says it all: the fallacious belief that each word should carry only one meaning. The fact of the matter is, language is a muddy lava lamp of words, breaking up into different spheres of meaning; merging into similar meanings; emerging and disappearing from the aether… Just because the speaker doesn’t speak the exact same way as the editor, doesn’t mean that the speaker is wrong; just that their usage is different. I had one guy tell me that “entitle” can only mean “deserve”; and that the naming of something can only be “titled” instead of “entitled”. Well, tough luck, bub. If you look it up in your oh-so-precious dictionary (as if first-hand experience weren’t enough), you’ll find that “entitle” is a verb that is also defined as “[giving] (something, esp. a text or work of art) a particular title.” This in fact follows a very common formula for verbs that are headed by the en- prefix, to denote the “making of” or “putting into” of things: entitle, enthrone, endanger, enact, encamp, enchant, encroach, endorse, enfold,  entreat, envelope, envision, etc…

3. Etymological Fallacy
This is the false belief that the root of a word necessarily yields meaning to the correct usage of the word today. This stems from the childish notion of a “golden age” where “the way things were” was inherently better than the “decadence and decline of today’s standards”. I once heard one of ’em grouse about how the word “moot” had changed, citing as evidence, the original “moot court” to the modern “moot point” where the nuance shifted from that of “constant quarreling” to “mute standstill”. But actually, if you go back further, “moot” actually comes from the past participle for “meet; encounter” (gemot), so where does that leave us, Herr Nicht-so-hoch-stimmt? My favourite example is the fact that the etymology of “nice” originally meant “ignorant; foolish” (literally “not knowing” — nescius) A very long way indeed from the modern sense of “inoffensive” and “lacks further detail”.

4. Linguistics is [Prescriptive] Grammar
This one bugs the frell out of me, because it’s actually led to my reluctance to share my passion in Linguistics. That, and certain individuals who don’t know when to shut up, when they’ve already hit a dead-end in a blind alley of conversation thread. Readers of this blog likely have a good idea of what Linguistics actually entails (if not, feel free to reference one of my earlier posts What is Linguistics?). So I’ll begin by sharing my interest/passion/partial education in Linguistics, and they’ll follow up with “Oh, don’t you just HATE when people use who instead of whom?” Actually, no, I don’t. I personally use whom myself, but that’s more a product of the coincidence that most of my teachers growing up were on the verge of retiring, and therefore of a slightly more traditional stock than the average teacher. I mean, I will confess that certain issues like the common confusion of lie/lay/lied is foreign to me, because I’ve always seem them as separate verbs, but I don’t begrudge the speaker for their ignorance. Besides which, lay is carving a pretty large market share for itself as the new lie. What’s worse though, is when my interlocutor tries to over-intellectualize by expanding the borders of linguistics to ridiculous heights. Yes, sociolinguistics does encompass factors like geography, community, immigration patterns, and social segregation. But that doesn’t mean that those aforementioned factors are the catch-all of sociolinguistics. We don’t point and blame certain socioeconomic classes for the “decline” in language, or indeed even the economy. Maybe if you could keep your trap shut long enough, I might be able to better articulate for you what Linguistics is, rather than having to play real-time debugger to your hideously ill-conceived notions of the school of study.

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