Percentage point--missed word in dictionaries

Victoria Neufeldt vneufeldt at MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM
Sat Dec 22 04:34:38 UTC 2001

Dictionaries, by definition, deal primarily with individual words and with
strings of words whose meaning is not simply the sum of their constituent
parts (idiomatic phrases, open compounds).  Transparent noun phrases are not
normally included.  I am assuming that 'percentage point' is a transparent
noun phrase, meaning one point of percentage: e.g. 17 percentage points = 17
per cent.  If this is not the case, and it has another established meaning,
then dictionaries should include it, if it is common enough (and if
warranted by the size of the particular dictionary, the intended audience,

The matter of collocations -- words that commonly occur together, but don't
have any special sense as a group (e.g. a phrase such as 'a hushed whisper'
or a given verb that is commonly associated with a given noun, such as
'commit' with 'crime') --  is something else.  The dividing line between
collocations -- which are often cliches -- and idioms or open compounds is
not always clear, and what constitutes a collocation can be very subjective.
However, the concept of collocations has been getting more lexicographical
attention in recent years and many dictionaries include more information
about them than in the past, often in the form of example phrases following
definitions.  Bilingual and learners' dictionaries, especially, need to
provide information about collocations.  Of course, their number is legion
and no dictionary could possibly include them all in any way that would be
meaningful to a user who didn't want to devote his entire life to reading


Victoria Neufeldt
1533 Early Drive
Saskatoon, Sask.
S7H 3K1
Tel: 306-955-8910

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
> Of Ittaob at AOL.COM
> Sent: Thursday, December 20, 2001 10:57 PM
> Subject: Re: Percentage point--missed word in dictionaries
> I've observed that dictionaries often do a poor job in defining
> phrases, as
> opposed to individual words. That may be because there are so
> many phrases,
> the meanings of which can often be deduced from their components. For
> example, in AHD you can look up percentage, and you can look up point (one
> meaning -- "a single unit, as in counting, rating or measuring") -- and
> pretty much understand what a percentage point is.
> Steve

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