No, it’s not a microcosmic tragedy, it’s a Language Log post by Geoff Nunberg about how Merriam-Webster dictionaries wound up with a definition of suicide that includes the phrase “especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind,” which is (as Geoff says) plainly wrong. It’s a fascinating account, written with the usual Nunberg clarity and elegance, of how incautious editing and condensation can create blatant error.


  1. I agree that the term suicide on its own doesn’t convey the ‘years of discretion and of sound mind’ component, in fact it seems to me that this would be informed more by the concept of euthanasia being invoked by the phrase assisted suicide.
    Nunberg makes a sound point of course, that this added component should not be included in a definition of suicide.
    Off the point a little, I’ve been wondering a lot lately about the abstract concept dictionary often occurring with the, rather than specifying which dictionary, or simply calling it a dictionary. It implies objective meaning, which, in this post-modern world, is not the case.

  2. Ginger Yellow says

    It’s interesting that the OED doesn’t include the “sound mind” part at all, even as a legal definition.

  3. Jaŋari, how about the newspaper?

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