The Vocabula Review

March 2008, Vol. 10, No. 3 Thursday, August 21, 2014


Mock Merriam
Web version
 

The eleventh edition of "America's Best-Selling Dictionary," Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Frederick C. Mish, editor in chief), does as much as, if not more than, the famously derided Webster's Third International Dictionary to discourage people from taking lexicographers seriously. "Laxicographers" all, the Merriam-Webster staff reminds us that dictionaries merely record how people use the language, not how people ought to use the language. Some dictionaries, and certainly this edition of Merriam-Webster, actually promote illiteracy.

Consider the following entry from the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's, and perhaps you, too, will mock Merriam:


fiske (v.) 1. to rail against dull-witted lexicographers and More ...

fulsome adj [ME fulsom copious, cloying, from full + -som -some] (13c)

1 a: characterized by abundance : COPIOUS <describes in fulsome detail — G. N. Shuster> <fulsome bird life. The feeder overcrowded — Maxine Kumin> b: generous in amount, extent, or spirit <the passengers were fulsome in praise of the plane's crew — Don Oliver> <a fulsome victory for the far left — Bruce Rothwell> <the greetings have been fulsome, the farewells tender — Simon Gray> c: being full and well developed <she was in generally fulsome, limpid voice — Thor Eckert, Jr.> 2: aesthetically, morally, or generally offensive <fulsome lies and nauseous flattery — William Congreve> <the devil take thee for a…fulsome rogue — George Villiers> 3: exceeding the bounds of good taste : OVERDONE <the fulsome chromium glitter of the escalators dominating the central hall — Lewis Mumford> 4: excessively complimentary or flattering : EFFUSIVE <an admiration whose extent I did not express, lest I be thought fulsome — A. J. Liebling>

usage The senses shown above are the chief living senses of fulsome. Sense 2, which was a generalized term of disparagement in the late 17th century, is the least common of these. Fulsome became a point of dispute when sense 1, thought to be obsolete in the 19th century, began to be revived in the 20th. The dispute was exacerbated by the fact that the large dictionaries of the first half of the century missed the beginnings of the revival. Sense 1 has not only been revived but has spread in its application and continues to do so. The chief danger for the user of fulsome is ambiguity. Unless the context is made very clear, the reader or hearer cannot be sure whether such an expression as “fulsome praise” is meant in sense 1b or in sense 4.

The 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's states that fulsome, today, means "generous in amount, extent, or spirit." It's not at all that people have "revived" sense 1; it's that people are misusing the word and are encouraged to do so by the unconscionable laxicographers at Merriam-Webster.

Merriam-Webster's promotes the outdated, the confusing, the illiterate meaning of fulsome, but it does not include the far more interesting and useful opsigamist.

Merriam-Webster: no longer "your assurance of quality and authority."

Mock Merriam.

More Mock Merriam

Do you find fault with an entry in the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary? Tell us what it is.

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