shift in "refute": another example

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed May 13 04:02:33 UTC 2009

At 11:33 PM -0400 5/12/09, Alex Edelstein wrote:
>why would they ad deny the claim to the definition when prove to be false
>already exists. your example
>'refute the fact' is the exact usage of prove to be false. it proves the
>claim false.

Sorry, I don't follow.  What I'm saying is that the ESPN usage
illustrates not the 'prove to be false' sense traditionally
associated with "refute", but the sense the OED labels "erroneous",
namely 'deny', i.e. to allege*--rather than prove--to be false.
Denying a charge (as Roger the Refuter is now engaged in doing) is
not proof of its falsity.

My last point references a discussion we had on the list several
months ago (one of numerous threads we've had over the years) about
the use of "the fact that" in contexts where no established facts are
presupposed or conceded, e.g. "I deny the fact that I committed the


P.S. Speaking of allegations--I notice that the classic if apocryphal
line "I deny the allegation and I defy the allegator" is variously
attributed on the web to Harold Washington, Jesse Jackson, and Al
Sharpton, and for all I know other African-American political
figures.  Seems unlikely that they all said what they're alleged to
have said, and I suspect none of them did--but the allegations do say
something about the allegators.

>On Tue, May 12, 2009 at 11:21 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at>wrote:
>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>  -----------------------
>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>  Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>>  Subject:      shift in "refute":  another example
>>  Crawl on ESPN SportsCenter:  "Roger Clemens refutes new book,
>>  _American Icon: The Fall of Roger Clemens and the Rise of Steroids in
>>  America's Pastime_".  And just how did Roger Clemens refute these
>>  well-researched charges levelled against him by four reporters in
>>  that book?  Apparently by claiming that the charges were false.
>>  The OED has for REFUTE:
>>  to prove (a person) to be in error  [not relevant here; no proof offered]
>>  to disprove, overthrow by argument, prove to be false [ditto]
>>  to demonstrate error [no demonstration, just assertion]
>>  Then it allows:
>>  Sometimes used erroneously to mean 'deny, repudiate'.
>>  [Yup, that's the one; it's been around since at least 1964.]
>>  Can "refute the fact" = 'deny the claim' be far behind?
>>  LH
>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>  The American Dialect Society -
>The American Dialect Society -

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