It’s always risky to opine on issues of spelling and grammar, and sure enough, several readers have objected to the graphic I posted [original source unknown] mocking a purported spelling error in the Harper Party’s TV ad attacking newly anointed Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. These readers variously argue that many dictionaries rate judgement (two e’s) a perfectly acceptable spelling, or even consider judgment (one e) to be an exclusively American orthography.
Arguing from the authority of recent dictionaries is a mug’s game, since postmodernist lexicographers have rejected prescriptivism in favor of descriptivism. The job of a dictionary, these rubber-kneed democrats believe, is not to tell readers how words should be spelled or used, but merely to record how they are spelled and used—by pretty much anybody, including party hacks in the PMOs media firm de jour.
The Merriam-Webster Company set this trend in motion half a century ago with its 1962 publication of the massive Webster’s Third International Dictionary, which critics of the day scorned for its unhelpfully equivocal definitions like the following:
It is the case that British usage favors (or should I say favours) an extraneous e in judgement, but this has never been standard Canadian usage, let alone USian. The Supreme Court of Canada uses judgment. So do the Appeal Court of Nova Scotia and all its lesser progeny. The Canadian Press Style Book uses judgment. The Globe and Mail Style Book uses judgment. Etc., etc.
Sure, like many usage tiffs, it’s a picayune point, more likely to entertain those who despise Harper than those who revere him. Picayune, but valid.