FW: FW: Same sound, opposite meaning

Mark A Mandel mam at THEWORLD.COM
Fri May 10 15:44:51 UTC 2002

        [Mark Mandel]
#Well! (eyebrows up) Thanks for that dating. I still feel it's sloppy,
#depriving us of a useful word ("verbal" = 'in words') by stealing it for
#a sense we already have a perfectly good word for ("oral"), but it's
#obviously got a long pedigree.

        [Frank Abate]
#Words are primarily spoken, it seems to me, as all language is.  The
#written form is a minority offshoot.  So, even etymologically,
#"verbal" refers to the spoken word.
#I think the contrast is between "oral" (or "verbal") and "written".
#We are not deprived of anything.

We on this list agree on the primacy of the spoken (or signed!) word
over the written one, but most people in the US think of the written
word as authoritative over the spoken one, in my experience. And by your
definition we are deprived of a term referring to communication by use
of words. As Marc Sacks wrote:

I always run across this in help-wanted ads, where the employer wants
the candidate to be skilled at "verbal and written communication,"
though I've never been very good at pictographs, drawings, or any other
kind of nonverbal written communication.

And Jim Landau brought in a clear example of "verbal" in reference to
primarily written words:

#From the explanation supplied by my insurance company rather than by
#the state:

#"The 'Verbal Threshold' option uses words, rather than a dollar amount
#of medical bills, to describe when a suit may be filed.  If you select
#this limitation, then you will not be able to sue unless the injury
#   death
#   dismemberment

And in THAT example the contrast is between words and numbers, not
writing and speaking. The reference of "verbal" to words, not orality,
is of the essence.

-- Mark A. Mandel
   Linguist at Large

More information about the Ads-l mailing list