Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

I DROVE my husband into Winchester the other day and, while he was busy dutifully replenishing the drink supplies of the cottage we had borrowed for a week from friends, I had a chance to buy a copy of Chambers 21st Century Dictionary. It is not published till today, but bookshops no longer take much notice of such things, and I shouldn't complain as I got it wrapped up in a see-through wrapper, reduced from 16.99 to 9.99. Remember the Net Book Agreement?

Anyway, I soon discovered that its newspaper reputation (for misleading the mildly educated by allowing them to use infer for imply) was unjustified. The dictionary has little boxes in its columns giving advice on usage, and this is what it has to say on infer: `The meaning given in sense 2 [to imply or suggest] is common, but is still subject to disapproval. Recommendation: avoid it if you are talking or writing to someone who is likely to be precise about the use of language.' That seems fair enough, if rather silly advice. For if you are going to take it, you are by definition someone who is precise about the use of language, even if the recipient of your letter isn't. I am; you are; they had better not try it on. …

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