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Within the past few decades, words such as “skunk” and “squash” have slowly been adopted by significant number of English…
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Oxford English Dictionary: A Not-So Descriptivist While it is rather clear that OED displays a more descriptive approach, descriptiveness of a dictionary, however, depends on varying degrees. Within the past few decades, words such as “skunk” and “squash” have slowly been adopted by significant number of English speakers. Change in spelling has become rampant: “colour” and “color; “centre” and “center”. This is a clear manifestation of descriptivism. Nevertheless, while one can consider OED, just like Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, a descriptivist dictionary, its descriptivism has varying degrees.
Although OED describes itself as descriptive by taking a more objective approach: allowing English users to utilize words according to which way they think is more appropriate; somehow, it is not as descriptive as other dictionaries like Merriam Webster’s or American Heritage considering that it subdues itself from adopting slang, newly-created words. For example, both Merriam Webster’s Dictionary and OED recognizes the word “skunk”; nevertheless, OED sticks with the original meaning while Merriam Webster’s Dictionary takes a new definition of the word which means “an obnoxious or disliked person” (Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, “Skunk”).
OED claims that "it traces the development of English from the earliest records, and formally from 1150 AD, up to the present day" (Oxford English Dictionary, “Guide to The Third Edition of the OED”). Anyone can nod as to the looseness of the rules in this dictionary, but still, it has the slightest leanings towards prescriptivism. Acocella (5) asserts “the most curious flaw in the descriptivists’ reasoning is their failure to notice that it is now they who are doing the prescribing.” OED and other descriptivist dictionaries are becoming more of a trendsetter rather than an agency to respond to the changing needs of the society. However, OED’s belief that it’s a descriptivist dictionary but claims it “does include information on which usages are, or have been, popularly regarded as ‘incorrect’” may just be a sign that it’s not fully descriptivist yet.
Works Cited
Acocella, Joan. “The English Wars”. The New Yorker 14 May 2012: 1-9. Print.
“Skunk”. Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2012. Web. 11 November 2012
“Skunk”. OxfordDictionaries.com. Oxford English Dictionary, 2012. Web. 11 November 2012
Oxford English Dictionary. Guide to the Third Edition of the OED. Oxford University Press,
2012. Web. 11 November 2012. Read More
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