Agnostic (non-theological)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Dec 7 00:58:21 UTC 2010

At 7:16 PM -0500 12/6/10, Victor Steinbok wrote:
>If they just noticed that this meaning is "creeping into the vocabulary
>of American business people over the past year" they are very late to
>the party. The use "I am agnostic on this issue" to mean "I don't
>care/am indifferent" has been in normal "intellectual" use at least
>since I was in college in the 1980s. Perhaps the business audience is
>late in discovering this usage, but it certainly has not happened just
>over the past two years.
>     VS-)

cf. OED s.v. agnostic:

2. A person who is unpersuaded by or uncommitted to a particular
point of view; a sceptic. Also: person of indeterminate ideology or
conviction; an equivocator.

1885 Western Druggist 15 Dec. 359/2 Judge Chipman is clearly an
agnostic on the subject of pills. 1909 Westm. Gaz. 16 Apr. 7/3 On
this question of a preferential tariff, Mr. Mayhew had no hesitation
in confessing himself an agnostic.
1921 J. E. MERCER Alchemy I. v. 61 As regards alchemy, he was an
agnostic. On the one hand, he would not venture to set bounds to the
possible in nature; on the other hand, he could not yield assent.

Perhaps not quite "indifferent", more like "undecided" or of course
"skeptical", but clearly non-theological.  Not sure what makes the
highlighted use "incorrect".

>On 12/6/2010 4:15 PM, Federico Escobar wrote:
>>... The word even drew this criticism from
>>a Houston newspaper just last year (it's stored in the COCA): "This is an
>>incorrect use of the word 'agnostic' that I have noted creeping into the
>>vocabulary of American business people over the past year or so. Especially
>>among individuals in the financial services industry, the word is being used
>>to mean 'indifferent,' as I think Immelt intended it to mean in his usage.
>>In business circles today, the word has become one of those buzz words that
>>people like to use."
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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