Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 14:23:58 -0500

From: Jesse T Sheidlower jester[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]PANIX.COM

Subject: Re: PC Dictionaries?

Gail Stygall writes:

Maybe the lexicographers among us can answer this question. Why are the

racial and ethnic epithets found in all the dicitionaires defined as a

*person* rather than as *racial and ethnic epithets*? Isn't that what's

being objected to here? Is there some semantic rule that requires the

definition to be person rather than epithet?

A word is defined in terms of what it _means._ It is not defined in

terms of the class of word it is. Definitions should be substitutable,

also. Racial or ethnic epithets may be epithets, but they are not used

to mean 'epithet', they are used to mean '(person of whatever racial

or ethnic group is under discussion)'. The fact that they _are_

epithets doesn't really affect this; they're also nouns, for instance,

but you don't define, say, _table_ as 'a noun applied to pieces of

furniture having a flat slab on top...'.

One could mention the epithet-ness of a word in a note, if you

wanted: "kike n. a Jewish person--used as an anti-Semitic epithet"

or something like that. Current dictionaries generally use terms

such as "offensive," "contemptuous," or the like.

Jesse Sheidlower

Random House Reference