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Prescriptivists vs. Descriptivists: The Fifth Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary

For all its many virtues, the fifth edition is not perfect. Its one glaring flaw is an introductory essay written by the chairman of the Usage Panel, Steven Pinker, a Harvard University linguist and cognitive scientist who is also an avowed descriptivist. In “Usage in The American Heritage Dictionary,” Pinker writes, “(W)hen many speakers misuse a word on many occasions in the same way — like credible for credulous, enervate for excite, or protagonist for proponent – who’s to say they’re wrong? When enough people misuse a word, it becomes perverse to insist that they’re misusing it at all.”

The Millions : Prescriptivists vs. Descriptivists: The Fifth Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary.

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