Sheidlower in NY Times

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Sun Aug 20 15:11:39 UTC 2000

On Sun, 20 Aug 2000, Laurence Horn wrote:

> describing--DISAMBIGUATE as a verb "mostly used in computational
> lexicography".  Is it really that restricted?  Generative, and
> probably pre-generative, linguists have been disambiguating lexical
> items and syntactic structures under that name since at least the
> early 1960's, judging by the OED cite from _Language_ and my own
> recollections within the field, and I'd like to think computational
> lexicographers still make up a minority of its wielders.

If anyone is interested in the term's history, the OED indicates that
_disambiguation_ was coined by Jeremy Bentham or his smarter brother,
George (alright, nephew).  The OED's earliest citation is dated 1963, from
the journal _Language_.  Here's an earlier one I have found:

1960 Jerry A. Fodor in _Journal of Philosophy_ 57: 503  One disambiguates
an utterance by adding to the context of the utterance.

Personally, "disambiguate" is my second favorite word -- I just like the
sound of it.  (My first favorite is "antepenultimate").

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Public Services     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at

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