Judgment call: appeal dismissed

Webster's Third 250It’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.

Contrarian readers’ vocabulary chops — updated

In response to yesterday’s post about Merriam-Webster’s vocabulary quiz, on which 60-year-olds leave younger word-users in their dust, Contrarian readers of various vintage have shared their scores. In alphabetical order:

Andy Weissman (70+) 3420
Andrew Bourke (40-something) 3700
Anna Daniels (20-something): 3660
Blair MacKenzie (30-something): 3720
Charlie Phillips (50-something) 3660
Contrarian (sexagenarian): 3660
David Rodenhiser (5040-something) 3960*
Elaine Fournier (40-something) 3700
Greg Lukeman (30-something) 3900**
Jeffrey Shallit (50-something) 3900
John Denault (70+) 3720
Mike Targett (30-something) 3760
Peter Spurway (50-something): 3860
Shelley Porter (40-something): 3140***
Stan Jones (70+) 3800
Steve Manley (30-something): 3480
Suzanne MacNeil (20-somthing): 3400****

* Current raw score leader, verified by screenshot.
** Current leader on an age-adjusted basis.
*** Ms. Porter has filed a protest over the only word she missed. The judges have responded with majestic indifference.
**** The plucky Ms. MacNeil, punching above her age-adjusted weight, got adamantine right. Contrarian would have flubbed it.

To be added to the reader scoresheet, send your scores and age cohort to comment @ contrarian dot ca. If you believe you have surpassed a top score, please include a screenshot.