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.
Random House Reference
jester[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]panix.com