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Forget Microsoft. I have no right to disparage anything from Microsoft because I have never used *anything* from Microsoft, I use nothing now, and I have a firm intention of never doing so in the future.

I should have confined myself to saying that when you're arguing about words, you should use a respectable dictionary if you feel that you want to use a dictionary at all.

You may not want to use a dictionary, because a dictionary's function is not to decide upon what's right and wrong, but to tell you what people mean by the words they use. A disclaimer to this effect is to be found in the introductory matter of almost every published dictionary since that of Samuel Johnson in the late eighteenth century. Dictionaries are *not* supposed to be authorities, and no modern lexicographer thinks they are. I took just one course in lexicography, and I remember the professor telling the following story: A visitor walked into the office of one of the editors of the Thorndike-Barnhardt dictionary and found the great man going through a stack of 3x5 cards and tossing each of them into one of three piles that he had on his desk. The visitor asked what he was doing, and the editor said, "I'm deciding whether these things are one word, two words, or hyphenated."

Well, who ever gave lexicographers the authority to do that? I didn't. Did you? Sure, somebody has to do assume that responsibility and we may as well leave it to the lexicographers, but there's no reason to pay any attention to what they decide; you're just as qualified as they are. So if Scrabble players want to turn a dictionary into an authority, that may be a perverse thing to do; but if they're bent on doing it they should at least use a respectable dictionary.

Some dictionaries are not respectable. For example, you and I could sit down tonight and write a dictionary together. Further, we could call our dictionary Webster's Dictionary, because that title isn't protected by anything like a copyright. However, it's most unlikely that our dictionary would be a respectable one, and I don't think we'd be justified in using it to win arguments.

Most publications of Merriam-Webster, Inc. of Springfield, Mass. are pretty respectable. Their Collegiate desk dictionary is generally recognized as a reliable guide, as their Third International (unabridged) dictionary was not--linguists loved it, but the public wouldn't have it; it was considered "too permissive," though "permitting" and "forbidding" are not what a dictionary is supposed to do--it's supposed to tell you what words mean. Some editions of the Random House unabridged dictionary have been worth buying, whereas early editions of the American Heritage dictionary were not taken seriously by most linguists. I've been away from this stuff for nearly thirty years, so all those opinions may have mutated since then.

Anyway, here's what M-W's Collegiate has to say about "scandal":
1. a. Discredit brought upon religion by unseemly conduct in a religious person. b. Conduct that causes or encourages a lapse of faith or of religious obedience in another.
2. Loss of or damage to reputation caused by actual or apparent violation of morality or propriety; disgrace.
3. a. A circumstance or action that offends propriety or established moral conceptions or disgraces those associated with it. b. A person whose conduct offends propriety or morality .
4. Malicious or defamatory gossip.
5. Indignation, chagrin, or bewilderment brought about by a flagrant violation of morality, propriety, or religious opinion.

And here's their take on "disgrace":
1. a. The condition of one fallen from grace or honor. b. Loss of grace, favor, or honor.
2. Something that disgraces.

Seems to me just a bit more serious than lack of elegance, and it's been my experience that most people I speak to would agree.

But you know what? I don't know why you went on so about what I wrote. Most of the sentiments you found in my writing don't exist in my head or in my heart, and I don't see them on the page, either. I think that what I basically tried to say was that we ought to reserve the word scandal for things that we don't snicker at; it's a far heavier word than that.

And I don't understand at all what people mean when they say that this or that activity has brought disgrace upon the Office of the Presidency. In my opinion, one can bring disgrace only upon oneself.

Just by the way, is Whoopi Goldberg's real name Karen Johnson? Where did I get that idea?



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