Language Defenders Come Under Friendly Fire

Published February 1, 2004

Although Bob Killian’s “Cover Letters from Hell” quotes one job applicant’s use of “accidentaly” as an obvious example of a misspelled word, his defense of language standards is coming under friendly fire from publishers of a new slang-filled edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. If enough people use–or misuse–“accidentaly,” it may well find a place in a future edition.

The latest edition of the dictionary, according to a recent review by Robert Hartwell Fiske in The Weekly Standard, “actually promotes misuse of the English language” by including misspellings and mistaken usage as valid. Dictionaries are “no longer to be trusted,” says Fiske, providing the following examples of “inexcusably shoddy dictionary-making”:

  • The spelling “accidently” is as valid as “accidentally”;
  • The verb “predominate” is also an adjective meaning “predominant”;
  • “Enormity” means the same as “enormousness”;
  • “Infer” means the same as “imply”;
  • “Peruse” means not only to examine carefully but to read over in a casual manner.

Fiske, editor and publisher of The Vocabula Review, is the author of The Dimwit’s Dictionary: 5,000 Overused Words and Phrases and Alternatives to Them. Whereas a witticism is a clever remark or phrase, a “dimwitticism” is the converse: a worn-out word or phrase, such as “delicate balance,” and “a new ballgame.”


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