Refute='contest' in the wild

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Sat May 23 23:39:21 UTC 2009

On Sat, May 23, 2009 at 7:02 PM, James A. Landau
<JJJRLandau at> wrote:
> On Fri, 22 May 2009 14:01:57 Â Geoffrey Nathan <geoffnathan at WAYNE.EDU>
> wrote (emphasis mine):

----- [beginning of Geoff's text as quoted by Jim - m a m]
> Here's a nice example of 'refute' used to mean 'argue against' without
> any presupposition of success:
> Immediately after Obamas speech, former Vice President Dick Cheney
> delivered a speech refuting Obamas comments about how to handle the
> Guantanamo detainees.
> This came from a weekly mailing from Cato, a libertarian think-tank and
> virulent opponent of Cheney and in the context of an article attacking the
> **pro-torture views of some of our former rulers, errr, government officials.**
-----[skip Geoff's last para, returning to Jim's letter - m a m]

> Could somebody please explain to me the usefulness of inserting a political
> comment into a message about a point of English language usage?  The
> effect of such a comment is to leave grave doubts as to whether Professor
> Nathan can be trusted to give an honest opinion as to whether a rebuttal on
> any subject by Mr. Cheney has qualified as a refutation.


IMO it's entirely relevant, showing -- or at least providing very
strong evidence -- that the writer of the sentence meant "refute" in
the sense of "rebut" or "contest" -- as Geoff put it, "'argue against'
without any
presupposition of success" -- rather than what it has traditionally
meant, ~ 'disprove'. Geoff could have made the connection explicit,

Mark A. Mandel

The American Dialect Society -

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