Should Dictionaries Include Common Confusions?

Paul Frank paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU
Sun Dec 19 14:53:51 UTC 2010

On Sun, 19 Dec 2010 07:34 -0500, "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>

> On another listserv, there is a heated debate going on between someone
> who is insistently confusing the "Immaculate Conception" and the "Virgin
> Birth" and others trying to correct him.  This is a fairly common
> confusion among people who don't pay too much attention to dogmatic
> details.  Should a semi-encyclopedic dictionary such as the OED have a
> subentry under "Immaculate Conception" with a definition such as
> "Sometimes used to refer to the virgin birth of Jesus by those unfamiliar
> with Catholic doctrine"?  The original OED does sometimes label
> catachrestic uses of words, but I am suggesting something more
> thoroughgoing, and more difficult in an age of widespread confusion.
> Fred Shapiro

As you know, many dictionaries include such information under a rubric
called "usage note" or somesuch. Years ago, I assumed that the Encarta
World English Dictionary was as bad as other Microshaft products. But
I've recently come to grudgingly admit to myself that it's a pretty good
dictionary. Here is the Encarta definition of "immaculate conception":


1. Virgin Mary's sinlessness: in the Roman Catholic Church, the doctrine
that the Virgin Mary's soul was free from the stain of original sin from
the moment of her soul's conception. The term does not, contrary to
popular belief, refer to the conception of Jesus Christ.

2. feast of Immaculate Conception: in the Roman Catholic Church, the
feast of the Immaculate Conception.December 8."



Paul Frank
Chinese, German, French, Italian > English
Espace de l'Europe 16
Neuchâtel, Switzerland
paulfrank at
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