gneeric "Websters"

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Tue Jul 20 12:15:22 UTC 1999

This generic argument runs a little deeper in folk consciousness than has
been discussed so far. The "generic" involved here is one in which,
specifically, "individuation" is trivial (at least in the frame of
reference important to the utterance).

Therefore, for many Christians, "the bible" is a fixed text, and, when one
says, e.g., "Do you have a bible with you?," an exemplar of an
undifferentiated set is singled out, but its individual qualities are
trivial (cf. "Do you have that old torn-up bible with you?").

Most Americans believe (I think I know; I've asked a gob) that there is one
dictionary, a representation of what the language "ought to be." Since that
philosophical position obtains (at least for very many), it is important to
remember that a sentence like "Do you have a Webster's handy" does not mean
do you have "a dictionary" (in the "any") sense but do you have an
undifferentiated example of "the" dictionary available.

They's generics and they's super-generics.


>"Webster's" has been in common use for quite a while:  In addition to
>Webster's Collegiate (the real thing), there's Webster's College, and
>Webster's Elementary, and Webster's Notebook Dictionary, as well as
>Webster's Universal Unabridged--only $20--but no kin to Websters Unabridged,
>3rd. ed.
>----- Original Message -----
>From: <RonButters at AOL.COM>
>Sent: Monday, July 19, 1999 10:40 AM
>Subject: gneeric "Websters"
>> In a message dated 7/19/99 11:21:24 AM, Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM writes
>> (quoting someone else):
>> << Why would any scholar forget to check the OXFORD version of
>> This is really an interesting use of "Websters"! This is like saying, "the
>> SCOTT version of Kleenex" or "the GE version of Hoover"; apparently
>> "Websters" has now become totally generic, like aspirin. Some people in
>> Massachusetts are not going to like this one bit.

Dennis R. Preston
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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