Event Detail

Mon Apr 21, 2014
370 Dwinelle Hall, 3:10–5 PM
Geoffrey Pullum (University of Edinburgh)
Linguistics Department Colloquium: The Lexicography of Insult and the Philosophy of Slurs

Some strange errors appear in the definitions given for certain mildly pejorative words in some dictionaries, notably the American Heritage Dictionary. It is puzzling that lexicographers could get meanings so badly and obviously wrong. The solution to that puzzle turns out to be intertwined with a topic of significant recent interest for philosophers of language: the semantics and ethics of offensive and insulting slurs. What do insulting terms like “slut” or “sissy” actually mean? What makes the offensive pejoratives offensive? What do they convey over and above their core cognitive meaning, and how? And how should dictionaries represent this information? Descriptive linguists can offer satisfying answers to these questions.

[Parental advisory: The vocabulary discussed in this talk is banned by the FCC from being used or mentioned in broadcasts between 6 am and 10 pm on the grounds that it is “so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.” As a matter of necessity, this talk deals with them explicitly. Those who are easily shocked should stay away.]