Years ago I worked with a German sister, deeply intelligent and one of the holiest people I have ever met. We were talking about nuances of meaning in a German sentence one day and, as an aside, she explained how dictionary entries were changed in East Germany to reflect a different mindset.
Change the meanings of words and you slowly change what people think. This is why I loathe what has been done to the word “gay”.
Dictionaries are important tools for revealing and also shaping thought. In the past, dictionaries were prescriptive in their approach to the meanings of words. Then there came a tectonic shift in theory of dictionaries, and they became descriptive.
I wonder if dictionaries might not be drifting back to a more prescriptive approach.
Now I read that the touchstone of British English has changed a dictionary entry.
From the National Organization for Marriage:
Oxford English Dictionary Alters Definition of ‘Marriage’
Following Parliament’s legalization of same-sex marriage on July 17 (despite fierce opposition from Tory MPs and grassroots members), the Oxford English Dictionary is changing the definition of the word “marriage”. According to the Daily Mail:
Language experts at the Oxford English Dictionary said the definition did not change overnight but they will monitor how the word marriage changes over the next year.
As it stands, OxfordDictionaries.com defines marriage as being a ‘formal union of a man and a woman, typically as recognised by law, by which they become husband and wife.’
In a reference, it says marriage could also be ‘(in some jurisdictions) a union between partners of the same sex’.
By the way, some of you might be interested in the book: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.