As do most of Louis' posts, it raises a couple of issues fundamental to this site. I have no intention of covering anywhere near all the issues, but just to open them up for discussion (should anyone feel so inclined).Semanticly, putting something extra on a word every one uses for one thing, has to indicate something more. I will have to again lament the loss of "General Semantics" in our public dialog. August members of the "arbiter" tribe can bite me!! Keeping from confusing things with their names is important. Keeping courts from Arbitrarying our language out from under us is a responsibility of any jury. If we don't hold them to account by insisting they use 'competency' just for their purposes, as well as someotherwordthan for 'sanity' and 'marriage', we can hopefully aspire to a self governing nation.
Several contributors, including Louis, seem to assume that many of the other regular contributors here belong to the "prescriptivist" school of thought with respect to language and language development. I can't see that myself. The fact that we are interested in historical and current developments in the meanings associated with words does not mean that we cling to a view that language is or should be static (but, of course, I speak for myself). Every language, and English in particular, is constantly changing and many of the changes often appear to be moving in directions which are mutually opposed. My personal interest is in identifying these directions, not in influencing them (quite aside from the fact that that would be a vain hope). Dictionaries and other reference works provide snapshots, mere indications, of how language was used at the time the dictionary was compiled (which in some cases predates publication by many years). They are useful as aids in understanding meaning, but anybody who is tempted to regard them as unchanging law is mistaken.
My own interest as a language professional is always in what people will understand when I choose to use a given word or expression, irrespective of what dictionaries or other "authorities" say, and most of my posts in the past have addressed precisely this issue. I very rarely ask "What is the meaning of xxxx", usually phrasing my question and comments in forms such as
I assume that the primary purpose of language is communication, and to achieve that, I have to understand as best I can how any utterances I make might be comprehended by the people I am addressing. A dictionary often helps me, but sometimes doesn't, and I still make mistaken assumptions that other people will understand a word or phrase that I use in exactly the way I do. Much of the achievement of postmodernist thinking about language has been to sensitize people to the fact that meaning exists (as Louis never tires of pointing out, but I, personally, tire of reading) only in the mind of the speaker or listener (writer/reader) and is not purely a function of the the name (word) we traditionally use for that meaning. Despite all the care in the world, I can never be absolutely certain that any two people will understand even the same fundamental meaning when they hear/read an utterance of mine, let alone that they will grasp the same nuances and associations that I do.I would still maintain that usage on the streets, at least in the UK, is at variance with what the dictionaries say and that it's not just a peculiar aberration of a small, isolated group of translators.
And yet none of this is the same as saying that there is not a certain underlying commonality of understanding when people use words. Neither does it mean that words do not carry meaning. (If you wish to split hairs over whether words "have" meaning or merely "carry" meaning, be my guest.) And grasping both the commonality and disparity of understanding is, for what it's worth, what I think that much of the discussion on this site aims to do.
Don't get me wrong, deconstruction, reversal and neologisms are all useful (and fun), but they run the risk of being self-deaf-eating when they destroy the potential for communication by undermining the basis on which such communication presently rests, the very alpha-bête of our language.
Ceci n'est pas un mot?