Wiktionary:Tea room/2011/October

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discussion rooms: Tea roomEtym. scr.Info deskBeer parlourGrease pit ← September 2011 · October 2011 · November 2011 → · (current)

October 2011


This is a weird one: w:PRO (linguistics). It's phonologically null, so it's not really a "word", yet people use it? I put it down as a pronoun and my definition is probably bad. —Internoob 05:07, 1 October 2011 (UTC)

Looks like a sort of placeholder, like x for the unknown in equations. Equinox 05:10, 1 October 2011 (UTC)
It is not a word but a symbol, like parentheses and arrows. — TAKASUGI Shinji (talk) 02:41, 26 November 2011 (UTC)


Is "foetal" really a nonstandard form of "fetal" rather than an alternative one? It has plenty of hits in Google books: google books:"foetal"; compare google books:"fetal". Put differently, can someone verify this diff? --Dan Polansky 06:30, 1 October 2011 (UTC)

  • It's absolutely standard. Ƿidsiþ 06:32, 1 October 2011 (UTC)
    • I have a funny feeling this may be Pilcrow confusing 'etymologically inconsistent' with 'nonstandard'. Etymology refers to where the word comes from, nonstandard refers to how it is used now. For instance, nobody says that adder (the snake) is a nonstand form of nadder because there was an 'n' in Old English. Mglovesfun (talk) 09:40, 1 October 2011 (UTC)
It says in this category: “This category contains English nonstandard forms: English forms of standard terms that, from the point of view of formal and pedantic language, are considered improper, incorrect or commonly misused”. ‘foetal’ is incorrect. Either that description is wrong or you are wrong. Nobody should be expected to perfectly understand the conventions of this project with so many inconsistencies (like that one). --Pilcrow 22:19, 9 October 2011 (UTC)
That is a terrible definition of "nonstandard". It shouldn't talk about pedantry. I would say rather, "This category contains words or uses which are not generally considered a part of Standard English as exemplified by newspapers, printed works and public discourse" or something vague like that. But this is a conversation for elsewhere I suppose. Ƿidsiþ 14:10, 12 October 2011 (UTC)
Pilcrow - how is "foetal" incorrect in any way? It's pretty much the only spelling you'd see in the UK, just like oesophagus and oestrogen; it isn't incorrect, just different. "fetal" looks strange to me. BigDom (tc) 15:20, 12 October 2011 (UTC)
Yes, "foetal" is the standard spelling in the UK. Without the "o" it just looks wrong. SemperBlotto 15:27, 12 October 2011 (UTC)
To SemperBlotto and BigDom: my position has already been explained. There is no etymological or even phonological support for the form ‘foetus’. It is a corruption, unlike oesophagus and oestrogen, which are accurate to Latin (and Greek). There are also other corruptions, such as ‘phoetus’ and ‘faetus’. ‘Foetus’ is not that widely accepted in the United Kingdom because of its inaccuracy to the early Latin sources (see Bees77707’s comment at the bottom of that topic). --Pilcrow 05:10, 14 October 2011 (UTC)
When an error becomes the established usage, as "foetus" has been in the UK for over 400 years, it becomes the standard spelling. The OED says that the "etymologically preferable" spelling of "fetus" is "almost unknown" in the UK. We don't have a Noah Webster to tell us how we "ought" to spell words. Dbfirs 08:08, 25 October 2011 (UTC)
Pilcrow's tag made sense given the description the category gave (a pedant would consider 'foetal' etymologically wrong). If the description needs to be (has been) changed, remove the entry now — though I've added the bit about the 'o' to the etymology (it could also be moved or added to the usage note). :) - -sche (discuss) 05:23, 14 October 2011 (UTC)
@Widsith: I've fixed the category def a bit by editing Template:lexiconcatboiler/nonstandard term and Template:lexiconcatboiler/nonstandard form. --Dan Polansky 15:51, 12 October 2011 (UTC)


As the name of a religion, oughtn't this to be capitalised as Santería? — Raifʻhār Doremítzwr ~ (U · T · C) ~ 15:23, 2 October 2011 (UTC)

Seems reasonable, but voodoo should too in that case (Voodoo is just German atm). Fugyoo 20:54, 2 October 2011 (UTC)
In my experience (which obviously cites overrule) voodoo is chiefly lowercase in English.​—msh210 (talk) 23:38, 2 October 2011 (UTC)
I see Santeria more than santeria in Google Books, though it doesn't separate out the accented versions well. voodoo is usually voodoo, not Voodoo.--Prosfilaes 00:18, 3 October 2011 (UTC)
I think, in the case of Voodoo/voodoo, there are a number of looser uses which essentially mean by it "black magic" (e.g., “Oh, the pus! The pain! The black voodoo! The wet jigsaw puzzle! I didn’t know what was happening! Oh, for days I was in a trance.”). My thinking is that the religion senses, being proper nouns, ought grammatically to be capitalised; looser senses needn't be similarly capitalised, however. — Raifʻhār Doremítzwr ~ (U · T · C) ~ 08:05, 3 October 2011 (UTC)
This seems like a purely empirical matter for a descriptive dictionary. DCDuring TALK 11:54, 3 October 2011 (UTC)
It looks like both capitalised and uncapitalised forms are used, so it's presumably a matter of which should be the principal entry. The same situation may exist for the Spanish. — Pingkudimmi 17:26, 3 October 2011 (UTC)
I agree (DCDuring). I had a brief look at this word myself, since it's been in the Wanted Entries, and noted it was generally not capitalised. Equinox 18:58, 3 October 2011 (UTC)
OK. Well, capitalised or not, shouldn't the POS header be changed to Proper noun? — Raifʻhār Doremítzwr ~ (U · T · C) ~ 20:09, 3 October 2011 (UTC)

mery pyn

  • Can anyone tell what these are obsolete spellings of? Are they indeed spellings of "merry" and "pain", as indicated? Or is it "merry pin"? Also, "a merry pyn/pin/pinn" is possibly idiomatic for something, judging by Abram Smythe Palmer's Folk-Etymology: a dictionary of verbal corruptions. - -sche (discuss) 08:51, 3 October 2011 (UTC)
  • Hmm, well the citation is ‘As plesaunt to the ere as the blacke sanctus Of a sad sorte vpon a mery pyn.’ This is sarcasm, I think it means roughly, ‘about as pleasant to the ear as some godawful cacophony sung by a serious person who's in a good mood’. pyn is certainly not ‘pain’ here but ‘pin’. ‘In/on/upon an X pin’ meant ‘in an X mood’. Ƿidsiþ 19:09, 3 October 2011 (UTC)


Are there archaic senses of odd#Noun or odds#Noun that are reflected in at odds and odds and ends? Could one be a separate etymology, from oddments? DCDuring TALK 11:50, 3 October 2011 (UTC) [corrected DCDuring TALK 14:22, 4 October 2011 (UTC))

je dis ça, je dis rien

Hi friends. Is there a translation in English for that ? --ArséniureDeGallium 18:39, 3 October 2011 (UTC)

Possibly "I'm just saying". Equinox 19:02, 3 October 2011 (UTC)
Sometimes it's very like that. Often it seems even more apologetic, like ‘but what do I know’, or in the way that you might say, ‘I'm no expert, but...’. At the end of a sentence, ‘Moi je crois X, mais je dis ça je dis rien’ can be well translated by, ‘personally I think X, but whatever.’ I don't think there is a single equivalent phrase. Ƿidsiþ 19:14, 3 October 2011 (UTC)

a fool and his money are soon apart

Can we have this entry here? If we can, I am importing from zh:a fool and his money are soon apart. Otherwise, I am deleting it from Chinese Wiktionary without importing as English entry explained by English belongs here, not on Chinese Wiktionary.--Jusjih 13:41, 4 October 2011 (UTC)

That formulation does not occur on Google Books: google books:"a fool and his money are soon apart". The version that I'm familiar with is a fool and his money are soon parted, which is well attested, and which we already have an entry for. —RuakhTALK 13:59, 4 October 2011 (UTC)
I would correct the Chinese Wiktionary entry if I could. DCDuring TALK 14:21, 4 October 2011 (UTC)
---parted is the only form that I know (and it's true). SemperBlotto 07:23, 5 October 2011 (UTC)
Edited on zh wiki. Hopefully wjcd (talkcontribs) will spot it and format it to zh wt's standards. JamesjiaoTC 02:36, 6 October 2011 (UTC)
Thanks for the replies and edits on Chinese Wiktionary. I am adding interwikis.--Jusjih 10:37, 11 October 2011 (UTC)

morning star

It's labelled but I can't find it here. I suspect the topic of discussion is whether it should be capitalized. At the moment, both morning star and Morning Star share the same definition. We need to either delete one (or in the case of the lowercase entry, the first definition), or make one an alternative form of the other. JamesjiaoTC 02:23, 6 October 2011 (UTC)

The cite has lower case, so is appropriate to the lower case entry. There may be some usages where that particular two-word term is regarded as a proper noun for the planet (as it once was for a newspaper). Can anyone find some? Dbfirs 15:56, 7 October 2011 (UTC)


I don't think it necessarily "indicates a better product". From what I have seen, it indicates a "next version" of sorts of a product, a successor in a way. It is also used in English in the "increment" sense from programming, as in postcount++ which forumers should be familiar with. -- Liliana 20:10, 6 October 2011 (UTC)

Isn't the next version assumed to be better? 02:10, 7 October 2011 (UTC)
Something like "enhanced" or "expanded" rather than "better"? 19:59, 7 October 2011 (UTC)
I'd say it means "with additions; with added features". Which might not be "better"; see bloatware. Equinox 20:02, 7 October 2011 (UTC)


How come "Add quotations wherever they are needed" is an adverb, but "I see mistakes wherever I look" is a conjunction? Is this right? Equinox 19:00, 8 October 2011 (UTC)

If you replace both instance with where, then I think you will see the difference. —Stephen (Talk) 03:01, 11 October 2011 (UTC)
Yet "Where I look, I see mistakes" and "Where they are needed, add quotations" both work.​—msh210 (talk) 15:12, 11 October 2011 (UTC)
I agree with Equinox and Msh210. "I see mistakes where I am looking" also works. And English Wikipedia says (correctly, I believe):
Subordinating conjunctions are used to begin dependent clauses known as adverbial clauses, which act like adverbs.
This implies that in each case the role of "where" or "wherever" in the sentence as a whole is as a subordinating conjunction, with the subordinate clause playing the role of an adverb modifying the main clause. However, within the subordinate clause, "where" or "wherever" plays the role of an adverb ("where I look" = "I look where", and likewise for all the examples).
So: Both "where" and "wherever" are both subordinating conjunctions and adverbs simultaneously, in all the examples. Duoduoduo 20:59, 11 October 2011 (UTC)

If we insist on using traditional analyses, there is no way to resolve this question. The CGEL treats both where and wherever as prepositions. In the examples above, they are relative prepositions. The structure is a fused relative construction.--Brett 11:53, 23 October 2011 (UTC)


It is written here that ‘fantom’ is used in American English, but I have never seen it before. My American spell‐check also considres it an error. Does somebody want to provide modern citations for this form? --Pilcrow 22:27, 9 October 2011 (UTC)

I think fantom is obsolete in American English. No one uses it, few have ever seen it, few would understand it. The only spelling in current use is phantom. —Stephen (Talk) 02:58, 11 October 2011 (UTC)
I agree. I'm American and I've never encountered "fantom" before. Duoduoduo 20:59, 11 October 2011 (UTC)

Southern American English

Is there a Wiktionary policy on giving or not giving the pronunciation of Southern American English? For example, "inclement" is given here as US and UK: /ɪnˈklɛm.ənt/, but in Southern American English, which often shifts stress to the first syllable, it is / ˈɪn.kləm.ənt/. Likewise, "umbrella" is given as US: /ʌmˈbɹɛlə/, but in southern American English it is often / ˈʌm.bɹɛl.ə/ . Duoduoduo 18:30, 10 October 2011 (UTC)

There is no policy that either requires or forbids it. If /ˈɪn.kləm.ənt/ is the usual pronunciation in the South, then by all means, please add it! —RuakhTALK 18:44, 10 October 2011 (UTC)
...marking it {{a|Southern U.S.}} or the like (on the same line as the pronunciation transcription and before it).​—msh210 (talk) 02:46, 11 October 2011 (UTC)
Indeed. But having thought about it further . . . I actually don't think /ˈɪn.klə.mənt/ is uniquely Southern; it may be particularly popular there — I wouldn't know — but I'm pretty sure I've heard it a lot in Michigan and Ohio. It doesn't sound "wrong" to me in the way that /ˈʌm.bɹɛl.ə/ does. —RuakhTALK 02:54, 11 October 2011 (UTC)
/ˈɪn.klə.mənt/ sounds right to me, a New Yorker, too.​—msh210 (talk) 15:09, 11 October 2011 (UTC)
Actually, I think /ˈɪŋkləmənt/ also sounds right. Not sure though.​—msh210 (talk) 21:07, 11 October 2011 (UTC)

Okay, I'll put /ˈɪn.klə.mənt/ in as (US) and not specifically Southern. Oddly, though, the Random House Webster's College Dictionary doesn't give this as a pronunciation. Duoduoduo 20:59, 11 October 2011 (UTC)

... also common in the UK, though prescriptivists would consider it "incorrect". Dbfirs 08:01, 14 October 2011 (UTC)
Never heard that pronunciation in Lancashire/Yorkshire, but to be honest nobody really uses "inclement" at all round here. BigDom (tc) 08:22, 14 October 2011 (UTC)
Yes, we have blunter ways to describe the weather where I live, too!


When attached before another noun, does this mean "fakeness, falsehood" or something similar (as Kunstnagel (current redlink))? If so, should that be a separate sense or a usage note? (Or perhaps neither, but I don't see why it'd be neither.)​—msh210 (talk) 18:05, 11 October 2011 (UTC)

German Wiktionary treats it as a prefix Kunst-. Etymologically, it stems from künstlich. -- Liliana 18:54, 11 October 2011 (UTC)
To clarify, de.Wikt doesn't have an entry for [[Kunst-]] the way it has entries for [[ab-]] and [[an-]], it just labels a sense line in [[Kunst]] "in compounds:". However, DWDS has an example of that or a similar sense standing alone, "etw. künstlich Geschaffenes und nicht natürlich Gewachsenes : das ist nicht echt, das ist nur K." (something artificially created/manufactured and not naturally grown/developed : that isn't real, that's only Kunst). It says "Kunst" has been used as an opposite of "Natur" since the 16th century, and gives examples of compounds from the 19th and 20th centuries. en.Wikt is also missing one or two senses for "die Schwarze Kunst" / "Kunst zu lesen" / "Sprachkunst". - -sche (discuss) 19:27, 11 October 2011 (UTC)
Is that still in current use as a word in its own right, or not...? If not, it might deserve a treatment similar to mittel. -- Liliana 14:01, 12 October 2011 (UTC)
It's hard for me to tell; "Natur und Kunst" / "Natur oder Kunst" are common word-combinations, but it isn't always clear which sense of Kunst they use. I found a book from 2009 that contrasts "echt" and "nur Kunst", though, and that contrast is also in some of the non-durably-archived Google Groups. How about this? - -sche (discuss) 01:09, 15 October 2011 (UTC)
Note that w:de:Kunst#Etymologie und Wortgebrauch (somehow direct section links don't seem to work here) lists even more meanings, including an outdated usage in the sense of "machine", notably as the last element of compounds. --Florian Blaschke 19:23, 17 November 2011 (UTC)

This is me (my stop)

I think the expressions "this is me" and "this is you" are quite common, meaning "this is my stop" (on a train) or "this is my house" (when walking with someone). I don't think it would be used in the form "this is him/her" or "this is Steve". How should Wiktionary handle this? Fugyoo 08:18, 13 October 2011 (UTC)

If we had an actual phrasebook, with folks interested in goals, criteria for inclusion, etc, this would be a desirable term to include.
Otherwise, I think it is a typical example of metonymy, w:Metonymy. It seems to me that the entries for English pronouns might benefit from a link to an Appendix that covered this. But such an Appendix would be even harder to write than a definition of a grammatical term such as a pronoun, preposition, or copulative verb. Also, note that the metonymy is so general as to include any personal name. This kind of thing is covered in w:Pragmatics. DCDuring TALK 12:14, 13 October 2011 (UTC)
If we have an entry, it should be for "this is my stop"/"this is my house", not "this is me", because I expect the metonymy may not translate into all other languages. Why have metonymy when a clear phrase will do, anyway? - -sche (discuss) 20:24, 13 October 2011 (UTC)
Because it is shorter and equally clear in context. This kind of thing would seem to be includable not in a dictionary, but in a phrasebook - which we don't have and the apparent enthusiasm for which has long since dissipated, showing no signs of returning. DCDuring TALK 23:28, 13 October 2011 (UTC)

I think this sense should be recognized under me. That's at least where I would look for it if I wanted to know what "this is me" means. --Hekaheka 04:22, 15 October 2011 (UTC)


w:Filibuster (military) says ""Freebooter" is the more familiar term in British English, in which "filibuster" normally only refers to the legislative tactic.", but our page has no label on the military sense, and US-only tags on the legislative tactic. Which is correct?--Prosfilaes 12:04, 14 October 2011 (UTC)


I am looking for the meaning and the origin of this word: ur-ancestor (or urancestor). It's not your ancestor, it's about a universal ancestor, for example in scientific articles about the origin of life (See google scholar). But I can't find what this UR means... Maybe the U stands for universal, but then what about the R? any idea? Dakdada 12:59, 14 October 2011 (UTC)

Could be the prefix ur-, borrowed from German. -- Liliana 13:06, 14 October 2011 (UTC)
(edit conflict) Ur- is a German prefix meaning "primeval" or "proto-", and it's been borrowed into English as ur-. Urgroßvater means "great-grandfather"; Urahn means "distant ancestor". —Angr 13:07, 14 October 2011 (UTC)
Oh, I didn't check the prefixes :) Now that I think about it, that word seems to be used often with a capital U ("Ur-ancestor"), like a German word. So that would be the "very first ancestor", which makes perfect sense. Thanks a lot! Dakdada 13:40, 14 October 2011 (UTC)


Can a Japanese editor check the Japanese translation here of the noun sense? Someone put 军事 for both the Mandarin and Japanese translations, however I know at least for the Chinese it's incorrect and probably incorrect in Japanese too. ---> Tooironic 23:08, 16 October 2011 (UTC)

  • Yes, as 軍事 says it means "military matters" not the actual armed forces. Fugyoo 06:32, 17 October 2011 (UTC)


Could this also mean ‘that is’? --Pilcrow 03:32, 17 October 2011 (UTC)

No, it is only "it is". There are other, similar forms, such as ’twas, ’twere, ’twill, 'twould, 'twool (it will); ’t (was ’t, do ’t, in ’t, on ’t); and t’ave (it has/have). —Stephen (Talk) 16:34, 17 October 2011 (UTC)


I'm curious. "Pan Am" had some guy making a joke about "when man climbed out of the primordial ooze", and I wonder when the "primordial soup" theory became a "primordial ooze" joke... is that the sorta thing someone would include in a joke back then (the early 1960s)? 04:37, 17 October 2011 (UTC)

Found a period piece noting man as having done just that, although "primordial ooze" as a meme seems to be much stronger from the 1970s onwards. 04:56, 17 October 2011 (UTC)
Well, I guess I answered my own question: yes. 04:59, 17 October 2011 (UTC)

if ever there was one

Do we have a sense for the linguistic chunk He was a bully, if ever there was one? --Rockpilot 13:24, 18 October 2011 (UTC)

Apparently not. We should, perhaps. Cambridge Advanced Learners has it, claiming it emphasizes the truth of what precedes. I am not sure that captures it properly. It seems to me that it is limited to attributes of something being particularly typical of the class encompassed by the NP referred to by the anaphoric "one". But the construction can also be inverted: "If ever there was/were a person to be called a bastard, it would be him." This may make one consider it more a literal, though elliptical, construction than an idiom. DCDuring TALK 16:32, 18 October 2011 (UTC)


I don't think there is a difference between "An intense stabbing pain under the lower edge of the ribcage, caused by internal organs pulling downwards on the diaphragm during exercise." and "A local sharp pain; an acute pain, like the piercing of a needle." do you? Other dictionaries don't seem to have this distinction. ---> Tooironic 23:34, 19 October 2011 (UTC)

This might be a case for the use of "especially", ie, the second sense ", especially under the lower edge of the ribcage during exercise." DCDuring TALK 23:59, 19 October 2011 (UTC)

free, sense 4

Please explain better the sense 4 of "free":

4. Unconstrained.

He was given free rein to do whatever he wanted

It seems redundant to the senses 1, 7 and 9. The example sentence seems redundant to the sense 9.

(the current revision of the entry is linked here)

--Daniel 03:16, 20 October 2011 (UTC)

I think that you're right. Also, I like to avoid single-word definitions of English terms where possible. —Internoob 22:15, 20 October 2011 (UTC)
Yes, avoiding single-word definitions of English terms whenever possible would be great.
Relatedly, if nobody objects, I'm going to remove the sense 4 of the entry in question, in the near future. --Daniel 01:25, 22 October 2011 (UTC)

what does Dziekuje z glebi mojego serca mean? Where did this saying come from?

what does Dziekuje z glebi mojego serca mean?

Answered here: WT:TRREQ:Dziękuję wam wszystkim z głębi mojego serca. --Anatoli 03:07, 21 October 2011 (UTC)


Does anyone know why 'watch' is pronounced /wɑ:ʧ/ but 'catch' is pronounced /kæʧ/?

  • The phonological history is complicated, but basically the /w/ in watch had a rounding effect on the following vowel, making it identical with Middle English /ɔ/. This is a fairly late development (obviously, we can see that it happened after the spelling was fixed) and probably didn't spread until the 17th century. For Donne, writing in the early 1600s, the two words still rhymed: he talks for example about a swan that ‘glided along, and as he glided watch'd, / And with his arched neck this poor fish catch'd.’ Ƿidsiþ 10:55, 22 October 2011 (UTC)


Having just made some changes to atheism, including merging definitions together, I went to check out atheist too. The talk page is an interesting read: one RFC and one RFD debate have looked at the wisdom of merging definitions together here too, but have not ultimately done so. I think this is crazy. An atheist can be defined quite simply as someone who does not believe in a god or gods. The fact that some atheists assert that god does not exist, while others claim no certain knowledge on the subject, is best left to Usage Notes. Why? Because a word like this is necessarily somewhat nebulous and has a lot of different definitions for different people: it is not only unnecessary but unhelpful to try and unpick them all in a series of graded definitions whose distinctness, in my view, cannot be demonstrated by the citation evidence. Otherwise why not have 200 definitions for Christian depending on what denomination you subscribe to? So tell me, am I convincing anyone or have I just taken leave of my senses. Ƿidsiþ 09:21, 23 October 2011 (UTC)

Personally, I like your treatment of atheism, but there has been previous discussion of the separate meaning on the talk page of atheist, and Richard Dawkins (for one) seems to use the term differently. Dbfirs 09:44, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
  • I think keeping the senses separated is better. One of the senses of "atheist" subsumes both strong atheists and agnostics, while the other one does not. Similarly, I think it is better to have two sense lines of "cat": a domesticated cat, and any cat including tigers. Interestingly, Merriam-Webster Online has only the strong version of atheism in "atheist", as does MacMillan. I don't think the word is by necessity nebulous; to the contrary, there are speakers who use "atheist" with the clear intention to refer to the strong version that does not include "agnostic" as a subclass. A use in a particular sentence that is clear and intentionally restricts the scope of the term is poorly captured in the dictionary if the dictionary only offers a vague and broad sense. --Dan Polansky 12:14, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
  • But then what do you do with all the uses which are not restricted in meaning (in my opinion, 90% of them)? Ƿidsiþ 12:23, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
  • Those uses that do not restrict the meaning belong to the broad sense. When designing a slicing of a term into senses in a dictionary, your task is to find all sentences that use the term, and classify the uses of the term in these sentences by the meaning of the term. For those sentences that use the term in a narrow sense, you need a sense line that fits this use. For those sentences that use the term in a broad sense, you need another sense line that fits this use. Sometimes, you join these two senses on one sense line, using the formula "A such that B, especially when C" or the like, where the part "especially when C" is there for the narrow sense. But then you still have two senses, just packed on one sense line. Again, it is much similar to "cat", which has a narrow sense that is a subset of the broad sense. You have the option to say that cat is "An animal of the family Felidae, especially the domestic subspecies", but it is unclear whether you serve the readers well by using one sense line instead of two. Again, the sentence "I am an atheist rather than an agnostic" does not work with the broad sense. --Dan Polansky 12:34, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
    Your number 90% seems odd to me. An atheist (in the broad sense) that is at the same time an agnostic has to admit this: "I believe that maybe there is God" or the like, a stance that I doubt most self-described atheists have. --Dan Polansky 12:38, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
    Cat meant Felis domesticus for a thousand years before it was ever applied as a broad term for the genus. The senses there seem obviously distinct in usage historically as well as practically. Atheist, by contrast, has always stood for a considerable continuum of specifics. And by the way, your idea of atheists' belief is not correct: the vast majority of atheists do not say for certain that god does not exist, they merely say that in the absence of proof they do not believe so. Some do go further, but in general the idea of atheists claiming to know that there is no god is a straw man put up by opponents. Anyway, the fact that we have to discuss these fine details at all is more evidence to my mind that our definition should be broad enough to cover this whole range, as almost everyone who uses the term seems to have a slightly different view of it. Ƿidsiþ 12:52, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
    The important point is this: Your proposal to have no specific sense in the dictionary does not do justice to those sentences that use the term in a narrow sense. Even if only 10% of sentences used the term "atheist" in the narrow sense, this sense should be documented in the dictionary, or else the dictionary is incomplete.
    The paragraphs that follow are less imporant.
    I do not know much about what the majority of self-described atheists believe. You speak of 90%, but provide no evidence or references. I find the stance of "there is neither God nor gods" natural and simple enough to be naively held, while the stance of "maybe there is God; I don't know; I don't hold the belief that there is God" seems an artificial augmentation against some objections. But, again, I do not know in any reliable manner anything about what most self-described atheists think. My bet is that most self-described atheists are strong atheists, but that is merely a guess.
    The need to discuss this is no evidence for the necessity of having only the broad sense in the dictionary.
    Re: "everyone who uses the term seems to have a slightly different view of it": How unlikely. So far, we have been discussing two senses of the term, one narrow and one broad. --Dan Polansky 13:53, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
  • I agree with Dan; I strongly support having separate sense lines for the separate senses. The words "atheism" and "atheist" can be used broadly, in a way that applies to those who believe no gods exist and those who do not believe gods exist — and even those who believe certain gods (but not the "right" ones) do exist. The Romans are said to have considered the Christians atheists, at first, because the Christians did not believe in the Roman gods, and I have seen Christians today refer to Hindus as atheists, because the Hindus do not believe in the Christian gods. We certainly need a broad sense that captures this broad use: "a person who does not believe that a particular god or gods exist(s)". However, we also need senses or subsenses that capture narrower uses of the term: one by which Christians and Hindus are not atheists, but agnostics are ("a person who does not believe that any god(s) exist(s)"), and another by which Christians, Hindus and agnostics are all not atheists ("a person who believes no gods exist"). It would be very misleading to have only the broadest attested sense. It is easy to find authors who use narrow senses: find authors who write "A is a Hindu, B is an agnostic, C is an atheist" as though these are different things. I would treat "Christian" similarly: if there are authors who write *"A is a Christian, whereas B is a Protestant", we certainly should add *"(in Catholicism) specifically, a Catholic" as a subsense of Christian. - -sche (discuss) 20:08, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
    Interesting. That seems like a recipe for a huge proliferation of senses to me, since different groups of Christians have very different ideas about who else gets to use the label (just look at the current arguments in the US about whether or not Mormons are Christians). People always argue about the application of religious and political labels, it's the nature of it. Solving this by making everyone right for a given separate definition seem misleading to me. Ƿidsiþ 05:19, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    Also, consider how other lexicographers have dealt with this situation. The OED, Chambers, Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, Macmillan, Cambridge Learners – in fact every dictionary I can find has one single definition for atheist. Ƿidsiþ 05:29, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    You are right that almost all or all dictionaries have only a single definition line, but the definition line that they have is often for the strong version of atheism: Merriam and Webster online, MacMillan, Cambridge dictionaries online. --Dan Polansky 06:58, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    Dude, I'm sorry but you're wrong. "Someone who believes there is no god" is weak atheism. Strong is asserting that there is definitely no god; this is actually rather rare, and not, I would argue, a truly different sense of the word. See e.g. Negative and positive atheism. Ƿidsiþ 08:07, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    "Someone who believes there is no god" is "someone who asserts there is no god" in the dictionaries' parlance; contrast the dictionaries' definitions of "agnostic" and of eg "Christian" ("one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ"). w:Negative and positive atheism says that only in the parlance of "a few" people is "believing there are no gods" contrasted with "knowing there are no gods" and used to convey uncertainty. - -sche (discuss) 08:32, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    @Widsith: My use of "strong" could have been uncustomary. What I meant by "strong" is the stance "I believe there is neither God nor gods" or simply "there is no god" rather than "I do not hold any belief as to whether there is or there is not God or gods". What I am saying is that the stance of "I believe there is neither God nor gods" should have a separate sense. Any more inclusive or weaker stance can be included as a difference sense, if it can be attested.
    Now look at what you have entered into "atheism": 'The absence of belief in the existence of a god or deity; sometimes more strongly, the assertion that a god or gods do not exist'. Clearly, "I believe there is neither God nor gods" is more specific (or logically "strong", a proposition is stronger if it says more, aka rules more cases out, aka is more narrow) than the sense that you have entered into "atheism". And you yourself have written "sometimes more strongly" in your definition, so my use of the phrase "strong version" was in line with the phrasing chosen by you. The word "strong" does not matter, anyway; what matters is that you want agnosticism to be included in the only sense of "atheist" that Wiktionary would have, whereas I want to have a sense for "atheist" from which agnosticism is excluded.
    For past discussions, I highlight Talk:atheist#RFC_result from July 2010, in which Mglovesfun proposed merger of the more broad and more narrow sense (agnostic-inclusive and agnostic-exclusive sense), Anatoli agreed, and Ruakh opposed. --Dan Polansky 09:35, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
The OED has two definition lines: "One who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God." and "One who practically denies the existence of a God by disregard of moral obligation to Him; a godless man.", each with cites spanning hundreds of years. Dbfirs 07:33, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
You're right of course, and I agree that's a separate sense, but that is nothing to do with the three senses we currently have, all of which are part of the OED's sense 1. Ƿidsiþ 08:07, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
  • (after some edit conflict) Random House has two senses of "atheist" (1. absence of belief that any gods exist, 2. belief that no gods exist), and Merriam-Webster has a full set of three, including the now-less-common vague sense which Dbfirs finds that the OED also has. Their version of it, "ungodliness, wickedness", is broader than what I wrote at [[atheist]], "absence of a particular religion"; what I wrote as definition number 1 needs to be broadened.
    With three senses, we are being descriptive. Many deviations from standard religious practice are "atheism" in books, particularly older books. Many, many people (who I presume have written books and Usenet posts) lump all "those who do not believe in god(s)" (including agnostics) together as "atheists". Many, many other books (including almost all modern books that describe one person as an agnostic and another as an atheist) use "atheists" to refer only to those who believe no gods exist.
    As Ruakh said in the old RFV debate: "the comments in favor of merging the senses are basically taking the position that they [...] don't draw the distinction between a negative and a positive atheist, so can't understand the motivation for using atheist to describe only the latter"... but as Dan said, "A use in a particular sentence that is clear and intentionally restricts the scope of the term is poorly captured in the dictionary if the dictionary only offers a vague and broad sense." As has been discussed at length on the talk page, our senses 2 and 3 are clearly distinct: "Those who do not believe in gods" are defined by not having a particular kind of belief (namely, religious belief); they may think that others' beliefs (in gods) could be correct — but "those who believe no gods exist" are defined by having an active belief which necessarily holds that other beliefs (in gods) are wrong. The senses are furthermore clearly used distinctly: as I have written, almost every book that describes one person as an agnostic and another as an atheist uses "atheist" in a way that excludes agnostics. That other books use the term in a way that includes agnostics cannot cause the first definition not to exist, but a second, broader definition must be added to account for the laxer literature. - -sche (discuss) 08:32, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    Actually, I disagree with your analysis. To draw a distinction between those who do not believe in god and those who believe there is no god is to base the definitions on the slightest of semantic quibbles, a difference in meaning which I simply do not see evidenced in the citations. I am not saying some people don't draw the distinction. They do. But many don't, and many citations are ambiguous for the simple reason that in reality the word's meaning is not very specific. I believe, contrary to Dan, that in that situation it is more useful to combine these two definitions on one line: "someone who does not believe in a god or gods, or who believes they do not exist". I come back to a comparison with Christian. Do we need separate definitions for every sect's idea of who is and is not a Christian? It would be possible to find citations which use the word very restrictively. But surely it's more useful to identify the idea all these uses are getting at. Ƿidsiþ 11:51, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    Butting in, in a way: The distinction is evidenced in quotations, contrary to your assertion. It is evidenced in the quotations already present in the entry in Wiktionary: "I would rather have the pews full of angry atheists and questioning agnostics than [...]"; "If you're not an atheist, what are you? I'm an agnostic. [...]"; "Many have wondered why Freud called himself an atheist and not an agnostic". Furthermore, the distinction is not "the slightest of semantic quibbles"; it is a distinction that leads people to saying such things as "I am not an atheist but rather an agnostic", a sentence that is false if the place of "atheist" is substituted with a broad sense. I see no analogy to denomination of Christians; I do not see what quotations would attest a use of "Christian" that refers only to a particular denomination. --Dan Polansky
    Nonsense, those quotes work perfectly well with the "broad" sense, of someone who doesn't believe in god. What such people do believe is actually irrelevant to the meaning of these citations: the point is what they DON'T believe, and that is exactly the essense of the word atheism. As for your last statement, a few seconds' Googling will demonstrate that many Christians do not consider Mormons to be Christians, many Evangelicals do not consider Catholics to be Christians, etc etc. Ƿidsiþ 13:19, 24 October 2011 (UTC)
    On the contrary, a reader must know what atheists do believe to understand the quotations. It is also necessary to know what agnostics do and do not believe. Plug in the suggested broad, all-inclusive definitions of "atheist" and of "agnostic" (the ones that only account for what such people do not believe), and see: "If you're not [someone who does not believe gods exist, but does not necessarily believe they do not exist], what are you? I'm [someone who does not believe gods exist, but also does not believe they do not exist]." "Many have wondered why Freud called himself [someone who does not believe gods exist, but does not necessarily believe they do not exist] and not [someone who does not believe gods exist, but also does not believe they do not exist]." Such a broad definition strips the citations of their meaning. Consider especially citations like
    • 2004 Mark E. Moore, Mark Scott, A Humble Defense: Evidence for the Christian Faith, page 10:
      Ravi Zacharias reminds us, "Atheism is not merely a passive unbelief in God but an assertive denial of the major claims of all varieties of theism; atheism contradicts belief in God with a positive affirmation of matter as ultimate reality.
    • 2007, William Sims Bainbridge, Across the secular abyss: from faith to wisdom, page 10:
      Atheism is not merely a passive lack of faith, but active disbelief in the supernatural. It is more common among men and among better educated people, but until recently we lacked data to probe its sources further.
    Plug the broad, all-inclusive definition into those lines:
    • "[Unbelief in God] is not merely a passive unbelief in God..." (huh?)
    • "[Lack of faith] is not merely a passive lack of faith..." (what?)
    If you don't see the distinction, I think you should defer to those in this discussion and the previous discussions who can see it. - -sche (discuss) 08:56, 25 October 2011 (UTC)
    Hi -sche, thanks for this but you misrepresent my position on what the word means. I do not say that it means "someone who does not believe gods exist, but does not necessarily believe they do not exist", that is exactly what I dispute. I say it means merely "someone who does not believe gods exist", where the position on what else they do or do not believe is variable and irrelevant. If you plug that into the citations we were discussing you will see that they make perfect sense. The two others you include at the end do indeed use the word in a much more specific way, but I maintain that this is not the essence of the word. Hopefully you and I can agree that we could both go off and find very restrictive ideas of what Christian, democrat, Socialist etc. SHOULD mean but writing 20 definitions for them all is a poor response. This is not an argument about what distinctions I cannot see -- of course I see exactly the distinction you are trying to draw, but this is a discussion about how a dictionary responds to politically charged words which have had a variety of restrictive definitions imposed on them by interested parties: I do not think it is helpful (or even sustainable from citations) to split them all up according to fine distinctions. Ƿidsiþ 09:48, 25 October 2011 (UTC)
    ──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Again, if you examine the matter carefully, you will see that the broad sense is incompatible with "I am not an atheist but an agnostic". This sentence is incompatible with "atheist" as "a person who does not believe in God": if the person is not an atheist and thus not a person who does not believe in God, then the person does believe in God, and is at the same time an agnostic, which is a contradiction. --Dan Polansky 15:10, 27 October 2011 (UTC)
    I gave up this fight in exhaustion long ago, but I'll just examine this argument. I don't understand your logic. Are you arguing for a separate narrow sense of atheist meaning "someone who believes positively that no gods exist"? If so, the double negative you raise still applies. If the person is not an atheist and therefore not someone who believes no gods exist, then the person does believe some gods exist, and is at the same time an agnostic, which is a contradiction. In actual fact, if someone says ‘I'm not an atheist but an agnostic’, most people would interpret that as ‘I wouldn't say I don't believe in god, I'd say I haven't decided’. Again, the key point about the word ‘atheist’ is what they don't believe, not what they do believe. Ƿidsiþ 20:24, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
    If the person is not "someone who believes positively that no gods exist", the person can still have no belief as to whether God does or does not exist, so your 5th sentence is wrong. Put differently, if it is not true of person P that "person P believes that A", it does not yet follow that "person P believes that not A"; it may still be that "person P has no belief as to whether A or not A holds". --Dan Polansky 20:58, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
    • @Ƿidsiþ -- I'm with Dan here: not being an atheist does not rule out being an agnostic. You've got two propositions here, but appear to be linking them erroneously. Abstracting, we have:
    1. (A == B)
    2. (C == B || !B)
    3. Therefore (!A == !C)... which is not a conclusion that follows from the two propositions above.
    Filling in with the terms of this discussion, we have:
    1. (Atheist == NoGod)
    2. (Agnostic == NoGod || God)
    3. Therefore (!Atheist == !Agnostic)... except this does not follow, which is the point that Dan makes.
    And, FWIW, I've always understood atheism to mean "a belief that no gods exist", such that the labels atheist and agnostic are mutually exclusive. In a nutshell, in answer to the question "is there a god?", the religious person would say "yes," the atheist would say "no," and the agnostic would say "maybe." This is how I've always heard the terms used, and I assumed that the terms were formed as they are in order to make this distinction: no + god + -ism and no + knowing + -ism. -- HTH, Eiríkr ÚtlendiTala við mig 23:54, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
    (Enter, With extreme weariness) For the record, I do not disagree with you, I only disagree with Dan's original proposition. On a point of fact, in answer to the question ‘Is there a god?’, almost all atheists would say ‘I don't know for certain’. In answer to the question ‘Do you believe in the existence of a god?’, they would answer "no". However, that is not the point. As I have tried to make clear, I am not denying that people use atheist in slightly different ways, what I am saying is that citations are not sufficiently distinct to justify us in assuming that these are separate definitions: it makes far more sense, in my view, to combine them in one definition along the lines of ‘someone who has no belief in, or who denies the existence of, a god or gods’. That is my point. All citations fit this definition; many (most) citations do not fit obviously into the two more specific definitions. Ƿidsiþ 07:47, 29 October 2011 (UTC)
    @Ƿidsiþ: You are apparently taking the view that atheist belongs to a category of "politically charged words which have had a variety of restrictive definitions imposed on them by interested parties", but I don't see any evidence of that. The cites in the entry demonstrate that a variety of people, including self-described "atheists", self-described "agnostics", and neither-of-the-aboves, have all drawn the same, consistent distinction between the terms "atheist" and "agnostic", using them in roughly the same way that others use the terms "strong atheist" and "weak atheist", or "positive atheist" and "negative atheist". —RuakhTALK 17:31, 27 October 2011 (UTC)
    A distinction between "atheist" and "agnostic" I fully accept, what I don't see is a convincing distinction between the two senses of "atheist". Different people have tried to define the word to answer the question of what kind of atheist, exactly, are you – meaning, what exactly do you believe? But my contention is simply that the answer to that question is irrelevant to the word atheist, which is specifically and only concerned with describing what someone doesn't believe. To put it another way, I don't deny some citations fit both of these definitions; what I say is that all of them would fit a wider definition and would be less misleading given the multitude of citations which don't clearly fit into either specific def because they simply refer to ‘someone who doesn't believe in god(s)’. Do you think it would be useful to split agnostic up similarly? ‘Someone who thinks there might be a god but isn't sure’ and ‘someone who thinks there isn't a god but isn't sure’? Citations could be found to support both, but what is the point and is that really the essence of the word? Do you see what I'm getting at..? Ƿidsiþ 20:24, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
  • A late chime-in here --
I think some of the confusion here might stem from the same issue that tripped me up as I read through this thread -- the ambiguity inherent in saying "A does not believe in B". As I first read it, this meant the same thing to me as "A believes that B does not exist" -- and I think this is how Ƿidsiþ is interpreting the phrase in his immediately preceding post, and possibly in his edit to the atheism definitions. Here, "A does not believe in B" cannot apply to agnosticism.
However, I think Dan, Ruakh, -sche, and the others are interpreting the phrase "A does not believe in B" to mean "A makes no positive affirmation that B exists, but is open to the possibility that B exists". Here, "A does not believe in B" can apply to agnosticism.
Whichever the case with regard to this discussion, the current definitions given at atheism strike me as confusing -- I can find no meaningful distinction between senses 1 and 3:
  1. The rejection of belief that any deities exist.
  2. The stance that deities do not exist (gnostic atheism).
To me, and I suspect to at least a few others, "a rejection of belief in X" is effectively the same thing as "a stance that X does not exist". I'm not even sure what difference was intended. Perhaps the wording could be changed to clarify? -- Eiríkr ÚtlendiTala við mig 16:55, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
Actually, I read "A does not believe in B" the same way that you do. When I say that we should keep both a narrower "strong/positive atheist" sense and a broader "strong/positive or weak/negative atheist" sense, I do not mean to argue for the specific wording that was very recently put in the entry, which seems to try to use "does not believe" to mean something like "does not have an active belief". (Sorry, -sche (talkcontribs): I think you dropped the ball in that edit!)
As for sense three — yeah, it's confusing, but if you look at the cites I think you'll see what it's getting at. Putatively, that sense of "atheist" includes anyone who doesn't believe in some specific deity, even if they do believe in a different deity. (Gibbon writes of "atheists" who reject the Roman religion in favor of Christianity; Dawkins would say that I am an "atheist about Zeus", even though I believe in G-d.)
RuakhTALK 17:20, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
Thanks, Ruakh. Hmm, then, should sense 3 be reworded to something like "a stance that specific deities do not exist"? This would highlight the difference with sense 1. -- Eiríkr ÚtlendiTala við mig 17:43, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
Just to make sure we're on the same figurative and literal page(s): [[atheism]] has three senses (the first two written by JimWae, the last written before 2011), [[atheist]] has three senses (written or modified by me); Jim's first and second senses of [[atheism]] are compatible with my first and second senses of [[atheist]], but my third definition of [[atheist]] ("a person who does not have a particular religious belief, even if (s)he has other religious beliefs... a person who disregards moral obligation...") is not compatible with the third definition of [[atheism]] ("the stance that deities do not exist, gnostic atheism"). I agree with Eirikr (and Ruakh?) that [[atheism]]'s sense 3 is not clearly distinct from its sense 1; the proposed change brings it into line with [[atheist]]'s sense 3. Regarding the other senses: I thought it was clear to juxtapose "who does not believe that any god(s) exist(s) [...] but who does not necessarily believe that no god(s) exist(s)", but if you can formulate it clearer, please do! I'm concerned "who does not have an active belief" carries as many erroneous implications as "does not believe", though: "does not believe in X" leads some people to think "believes X does not exist", but "does not have an active belief" implies "has a passive belief". Perhaps "does not have a belief that X exists", juxtaposed with "but may not have a belief that X does not exist"? - -sche (discuss) 19:31, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
If the definitions at atheism are so clearly distinct in scope, as the editor who reversed my edit claimed, then can someone kindly tell me which of the definitions the four citations should be filed under? It seems an impossible task to me. Instead of working from preconceived ideas about definitions backwards, why not look at the citations and go from there? Ƿidsiþ 20:30, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
Oh, I get it: as if we were still a descriptive dictionary. The premise may be contrafactual, but it could be a useful fiction. DCDuring TALK 21:05, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
As Lillian Hellman said, ‘cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth’. You old cynic you. Ƿidsiþ 07:47, 29 October 2011 (UTC)
──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── First of all, I apologise for saying above that you (Widsith) don't see the distinction between the senses; what I should have said is that you don't think the distinction is being made by the citations. (Right?)
That's the impasse we don't seem to be moving from: I do think some citations use sense 1, some use sense 2, and some use sense 3. I think it clear that McGrath, for example, uses [[atheism]] to mean the "positive"/"affirmative" belief that god is not: McGrath rightly considers that to be "faith" (because it cannot be logically proven that no god exists in any form, even though specific religious claims like "woman was created from man's rib" can be proven to be true or false), and McGrath contrasts this which agnosticism. Sense 2 includes things that McGrath doesn’t include in his use of the term.
It's actually more difficult for me to find citations that clearly use sense 2 (which includes not only the phenomenon described by sense 1, but also agnosticism), but we all seem to agree (right?) that the second sense exists — we may not all agree on the wording, but I should note that I consider my wording to be an attempt at the same "broad" definition Widsith proposed we have as the only definition (if my wording isn't good, let's improve it). I haven't read the whole of his work to make sure, but Paul Henry Thiry seems to use [[atheist]] in sense 2; he says "All children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God": children are not born believing either that god is or that god is not, so children are born sense-2-atheists.
Meanwhile, I expect that other citations can be found that clearly use sense 3; that is, which use [[atheism]] as a generic term for any "wickedness" (as the OED puts in) or failure to adhere to the standard religion (regardless of any belief in its god, or in some other god). It's actually possible that a distinction between "wickedness" and "failure to believe in a specific god" may be supported by citations! Dawkins certainly uses [[atheist]] not to mean a wicked person, but to mean a person who does not believe in some god — even if (s)he believes in some other god. Meanwhile, Dbfirs says the OED has citations of atheism being used to mean disregard of moral obligation, wickedness — and I certainly would expect old works might use it in this way.
In other words, I think it is descriptive (DCDuring!) to have three senses. My understanding of the previous discussion is that Dan and Ruakh (and Eirikr?) also think that citations support three senses, or that they think the citations support senses 1 and 2 and they haven't commented on sense 3. - -sche (discuss) 00:59, 30 October 2011 (UTC)
On the other hand, the distinction Jim Wae has made between "The rejection of belief that any deities exist, perhaps without the belief that no deities exist." and "The absence of belief that any god(s) exist(s)." may or may not be supported by citations. - -sche (discuss) 03:21, 30 October 2011 (UTC)
As for concerns about having too many senses, or splitting things too finely: we have 25 senses of [[line]] and 16 or 17 senses of [[water]], many about as distinct as these. As a very good example, we distinguish "An infinitely extending one-dimensional figure that has no curvature; one that has length but not breadth or thickness." from "A line segment; a continuous finite segment of such a figure." If citations make such a distinction, we should (and do). - -sche (discuss) 03:21, 30 October 2011 (UTC)
No arguments there. I am normally a big supporter of splitting definitions in such cases. But what I have found is that most uses of atheist do not fit obviously into a weak-strong division (let's exclude sense 3, which is about immorality and clearly separate). Doing a quick Guardian search I find phrases like ‘Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and atheist friends joined together’; ‘an atheist academic’; ‘A century of research has highlighted that atheists tend to be well-educated’; ‘Theology lets us talk about deep and irrational urges. This is seen by some atheists as weakness’; ‘Must I, as an atheist and humanist, eschew these simple pleasures given to me in childhood...?’ Here it is not possible to decide whether "weak" or "strong" atheists are being referred to, nor, I'd suggest, does it matter. We have to account for these citations. My opinion, apparently a minority one, is that in such a situation the best response is to write a definition which accounts for both vague and specific usage: ‘Someone who does not believe in, or denies the existence of, a god or gods.’ Ƿidsiþ 07:40, 30 October 2011 (UTC)
I'm probably just misunderstanding you, but, just to be clear: everyone agrees that we need a definition that accounts for the vague usage. And everyone agrees that we don't need a specific definition for "weak" atheists, because (so far as we know) no-one uses the term atheist to refer specifically to weak atheists. But I don't think that a definition for the vague usage can really adequately account for the cites that do distinguish "atheist" from "agnostic", just as (to recycle Dan Polansky's example) a definition for "cat" that accounts for the sentence "lions and tigers are two kinds of cats" cannot readily account for the sentence "lions and tigers are related to cats, but are much bigger and scarier". You say that the specific sense of "cat" can be justified on historical grounds, and I don't doubt you; but it can also be justified on the basis of current usage, as can a specific sense of "atheist".
Incidentally, this is a lesser point, but I don't think that "doesn't believe" is a great choice of wording, since as Eirikr points out above, many speakers take it to be roughly synonymous with "disbelieves". (If I have the terminology right, this is an "implicature" which can be "canceled": something like "I don't believe in it, but I don't not believe in it, either" is fine.)
RuakhTALK 21:29, 30 October 2011 (UTC)
Note that the definitions given at Wikipedia, in a nutshell, are: an atheist is primarily someone who is not a theist, i. e. does not believe in any deities. This leaves open the possibility that proof could be presented that could change the atheist's mind. An agnostic is someone who does not even consider such proof possible. In fact, that is an even stronger and less flexible position! Hence, agnosticism and atheism are not at all incompatible, but neither are agnosticism and theism. Counter to common usage, an agnostic is someone whose mind cannot be changed by evidence, as proving the existence of deities is considered impossible in the agnostic's opinion. (For example, because they consider the existence of deities an unfalsifiable proposition.) An atheist who is not agnostic, on the other hand, is open towards such evidence, and could be caused to change their mind, in principle. An atheist is simply an unbeliever. Note that belief and unbelief are mutually exclusive; you cannot believe and not believe in something at the same time. Nor is there an intermediate position; belief is an either/or thing. If you have doubts, are not sure, or have not made your mind up, you are an unbeliever. (If you do positively believe that deities do not exist, that is a belief and has not been strictly proved, as has often been pointed out.) These are the academic, and long accepted, definitions of atheism and agnosticism.
Now a lot of people have come to associate "atheism" with active rejection of belief (antitheism), or even a caricature of radical, fanatic, wild-eyed preachers violently opposing belief, theism, organised religion, religion in general, or even spirituality – the mirror equivalent to religious fundamentalists. Dawkins and his fellow "New Atheists" are often stereotyped as such. However, as I understand them, they are rather just outspoken about their atheism, refuse to be silent, polite and demure, and are adamant about the use of logic to evaluate religious claims. The "New Atheist" movement, if anything, is a reaction against religious fundamentalism and (sometimes inherent or thoughtless) discrimination against people who are open about their atheism, to say nothing of outspoken unbelievers like them. None of the "New Atheists" wants to outlaw religion Soviet-style, and instate science and rationalism as mandatory "state religion", nor do they want to destroy religion and bomb its adherents, buildings and symbols to oblivion, but they demand that atheists be accorded the same rights, and the same respect, as theists. Moreover, they criticise misconceptions and prejudice concerning atheism (such as the old canard that atheists are necessarily immoral and hedonistic, and less likely to do good or care for the future), and are also insistent in their views critical of (mainly monotheistic) religions, which they keep expounding in their books, but they want to convince, on an intellectual level, and encourage and empower existing atheists, rather than to force anyone to change their private beliefs. If you wish to keep your beliefs, and are really convinced, I'd say you could simply ignore Dawkins and his fellows. Fighting against them only makes you appear unsure about your own beliefs, to my mind.
However, the (incorrect) perception of atheism as an intolerant position has led many people to eschew the label "atheist". The seemingly compromising, tolerant, non-committal position they prefer is called agnosticism by them, regardless of the established academic definition. I consider this usage clearly incorrect, but Wiktionary should definitely record it as a secondary meaning, and emphasise the difference between academic and common usages.
In fact, I think the perception that Dawkins does not use "atheism" in the "weak" sense arises from a misunderstanding. He seems to criticise the position which tries to placate both sides when he points out that people are not as sensitive about similar beliefs which are not sanctioned by society, such as belief in fairies, elves or unicorns, or new religious movements, such as neopagan beliefs or small sects (usually with charismatic leaders), because these have no lobbies. Nobody cares about the religious feelings of fairy-believers, elf-worshippers, unicorn-lovers, Odinists and sectarians, and feels free to put them down as oddballs, nutcases, weirdos, Neo-Nazis and fanatics, respectively. Political correctness has very striking limits. The point of parody religions such as Pastafarianism is that all religions are equally irrational and ridiculous, and it is opportunistic and hypocritical to respect only those which have powerful, influential lobbies, be they churches, the Anti-Defamation League, or Scientology, while in the case of non-mainstream religions without any political support, nobody doubts their irrationality.
I'm sure Dawkins respects every belief, however crazy it may seem to him, but that doesn't mean he can't criticise them. His point is that atheism is no more than not believing in patently irrational things such as fairies or elves (and being atheist just means believing in one fewer deity than a monotheist, given that there are millions of deities that people have believed in historically, and that most people do not even come close to believing in all of these), not that people don't have the right to hold irrational beliefs. But he has, reserves and exercises the same right to criticise those beliefs, and that makes him politically inconvenient. His opponents are no less vocal.
Being atheist doesn't mean that you are obliged to be loudly critical of religion, but you are allowed to do so, and you are not required to avoid stepping on anyone's toes or violating people's sensibilities, especially when they don't make any attempt to do the same with you or other views they disagree with, either – notably when it comes to beliefs outside the "establishment". When it comes to denouncing neopagans and occultists, thin-skinned, easily offended Christians and otherwise demonstratively inclusive left-wing activists are the first to act, obviously because those are easy victims – and note that it is impossible not to offend anyone's religious sensibilities, because to fundamentalists, the mere fact that you do not believe the same as them already offends their sensibilities: there is no accommodating them. Political correctness, as in treating people with kid gloves, dancing around controversial issues and walking like on eggshells in the desperate attempt not to offend even unintentionally, is futile, and in their insistence not to offend certain groups, however well-meaning (the way to hell is paved with good intentions, as we all know), PC fanatics will offend others (Yupik Eskimos, Alutiiq and the Siberian Eskimos object to being called Inuit, and no, Inuit-Yupik won't do the trick either, because at least Alutiiq do not consider themselves Yupik: quite a quagmire).
Personally, I consider myself atheist and agnostic or even ignostic, and have been so ever since my teenage years, but nevertheless I retain an endless fascination with religion, as a subject of study. Just because I denounce the irrationality of something does not mean I must hate and want to destroy it. A lot of human culture is deeply irrational, but as long as it doesn't affect me personally, I have no reason not to tolerate it. (Hell, I'm irrational in many ways, myself, but I try not to be a jerk about it, or do harm.)
In short, the distinction between "weak" and "strong" atheism, and sundry variants, becomes absurd when compared to the fairy (etc.) equivalent of atheism; note that Icelanders are known as retaining a tendency to believe in the reality of elves, a source of great amusement to foreigners. --Florian Blaschke 19:10, 17 November 2011 (UTC)
Hi - this has become quite a hefty read, I am not sure that I can do justice to all the arguments raised. Let me just say that I have found few 'serious' sources that entertain the notion that atheism and agnosticism are not distinct and mutually exclusive, indeed many sources explicitly contrast them. I think that a source of unnecessary confusion has arisen regarding the meaning of "reject", "belief", "disbelief" and "denial" - my understanding is that they are all used to signify knowledge claims. Some sources spell that out when they develop the subject further, such as ( emphasis mine ):
Atheism is the position that affirms the nonexistence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief. Since many different gods have been objects of belief one might be an atheist with respect to one god while believing in the existence of some other god. In the religions of the west - Judaism. Christianity and Islam - the dominant idea of God is of a purely spiritual. supernatural being who is the perfectly good. all-powerful. all-knowing creator of everything other than himself. As used in this entry, in the narrow sense of the term an atheist is anyone who disbelieves in the existence of this being, while in the broader sense an atheist is someone who denies the existence of any sort of divine reality.
atheism, in general, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings. As such, it is usually distinguished from theism, which affirms the reality of the divine and often seeks to demonstrate its existence. Atheism is also distinguished from agnosticism, which leaves open the question whether there is a god or not, professing to find the questions unanswered or unanswerable.
I think that this misunderstanding regarding what rejection and denial means in this context stems from failing to factor in noncognitivism - which states simply that "God exists" does not express any proposition at all, which I think we should agree does not yield "with or without a belief that no deities exist".
This is my first foray into wiktionary, so I am not quite sure on how this works, do we build established sources such as dictionaries, encyclopedias and scholarly work ( with discussion of course ) or do we build from more or less random citations in primary sources? unmi 17:33, 4 December 2011 (UTC)


I see that recombobulate has been deleted as a protologism. However, gbooks has a good smattering of results going back as far as 1970 and the word is quite widespread on the internet in general. Can a discussion be opened on this?, and if so please point me at the right venue. SpinningSpark 18:30, 23 October 2011 (UTC)

I've restored it, as it does seem to exist, and have RFVed it, as is usual with things speedily deleted due to lack of cites. (That is, I assume the deleter would have wanted it RFVed if it was to not be deleted, so I'm doing it for him.) I suspect both senses are citeable, and will attempt to cite them tomorrow if I have time (and remember to).​—msh210 (talk) 19:13, 23 October 2011 (UTC)
The entry actually does have citations already on the citations tab (which were never deleted). I have noticed this before on Wiktionary in other discussions that citations tend to get overlooked when placed on the citations page rather than the entry page. SpinningSpark 19:40, 25 October 2011 (UTC)
There's a {{seeCites}} template, ideally it should automatically appear. Fugyoo 23:45, 27 October 2011 (UTC)
That'd not be ideal IMO. The citations tab is automatic (for those with JS) and sufficient. SeeCites' benefit is highly dependent on what else in the page, so not easily scriptable if at all. I check it before I delete an entry for no cites (though I can't say I've never forgotten to), and others seem to also.​—msh210 (talk) 00:20, 28 October 2011 (UTC)

couldn't come soon enough

We are probably missing something to describe the language chunk "it couldn't come soon/quickly enough" --Rockpilot 20:47, 23 October 2011 (UTC)

Would that we had a phrasebook for such an expression, instead of a collection of discards and fatuous entries, apparently intended to discredit the idea. Perhaps WikiChunk would be the right concept to include both traditional phrasebook phrases, common SoP collocations, and SoP constructions. DCDuring TALK 15:56, 27 October 2011 (UTC)
Seems no different than e.g. "he couldn't be happier". Perhaps a grammar book could deal with this (the use of negatives to express positives). I don't think your "chunk" is anything specifically worth mention. Equinox 19:38, 28 October 2011 (UTC)

personal life

Should we keep and define this? Isn't it the same as private life? ---> Tooironic 21:30, 23 October 2011 (UTC)

  • both of those look entryworthy to me--Rockpilot 09:13, 24 October 2011 (UTC)


In Portuguese the names of languages and people aren't proper nouns, therefore not capitalized. Despite this, this article (http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0104-93132005000100002) uses "Paumari" when refering to the people; and in one case, the language ("Em Paumari, o termo igitha designa a presa").

Also, this article doesn't use the acute accent in the 'i' (in Portuguese words ending with 'i' have stress in the last syllable); but it references one which does (Dicionário bilíngüe nas línguas paumarí e portuguesa e perfil gramatical).

Should this be deleted, because of the capitalization issue (as mentioned in Wiktionary:About Portuguese), or kept because it is used in a source? Ungoliant MMDCCLXIV 14:35, 25 October 2011 (UTC)

Isn't it an English term as well? If so, it should be kept as English. -- Liliana 13:40, 28 October 2011 (UTC)


Is there a word that captures the meaning of: step into thr throne? —This comment was unsigned.


We're missing the sense in google books:"you little snip". Anyone know what it means?​—msh210 (talk) 20:01, 27 October 2011 (UTC)

I think it means an impudent person. Fugyoo 23:42, 27 October 2011 (UTC)
Not really; it means a small or weak person, especially a young one. I'll put it in. SpinningSpark 20:21, 30 October 2011 (UTC)


Rft-sense: A person or instrument that performs the alto part.

This might go for RFV, but I did not want to be so aggressive, and this seems to require discussion rather than mere attestation. My question is, how is this attested. Because, in order to attest "alto" as a person, you'd need something like *"He is an alto." By contrast, the sentence "he is an alto singer" does not attest the genus of "person", nor does "an alto saxophone" attest the genus of "instrument". Moreover, the noun status of "alto" is not quite clear to me; "alto" seems to be used most often in attributive positions; is it ever used in the predicative position? And if "alto" is used only attributively, is this something that would detract from "alto"'s being a noun? --Dan Polansky 13:36, 28 October 2011 (UTC)

You can omit that asterisk before "He is an alto": see google books:"is an alto or|and|in|while|then" and especially on the Web.​—msh210 (talk) 16:15, 28 October 2011 (UTC)


Our newspaper, The Flint Journal, had this sentence in its 10-28-11 edition, front page: "As a player outside the top eight, who are preseeded in tournaments, Brad Schopieray plays higher-ranked players, which makes moving up difficult." I question the word "preseeded" and thought it should have been "preceded" and looked it up in my dictionary and the word was not even listed at all. Tell me, is the word usage correct? I thought perhaps it might be listed as an alternate spelling for "preceded" but it wasn't. "Preseeded" brings to my mind as something to do with gardening.

It has to do with seeding, the arrangement of who plays what game in a tournament. Not related to precede or proceed. — lexicógrafa | háblame — 17:17, 28 October 2011 (UTC)
see preseeded --Rockpilot 10:49, 31 October 2011 (UTC)

Thunraz ~> thunDer, donDer

I hope, this is the right place. My question's rather easy: Does anybody know how the Dutch, English and Low German forms of the word acquired the D?Dakhart 10:13, 30 October 2011 (UTC)

In the case of English, it comes from the n rubbing up against the r in the Anglo-Saxon genitive of Thunor, which was Thunres. The same thing happens in other words, such as gender from Old French gendre from Latin generis, the genitive of genus; and andro- from Greek ἀνδρός, genitive of ἀνήρ; and the Russian misspelling ндрав (ndrav), for the word нрав (nrav). —Stephen (Talk) 10:58, 30 October 2011 (UTC)
It's a phenomenon called epenthesis. It happens in many languages to make certain combinations easier to pronounce. In Dutch it didn't just affect -nr- but also -lr- (kelre > kelder) and probably -mr- (> -mber-) as well. It also changed initial sr- to str- in early Germanic. —CodeCat 11:01, 30 October 2011 (UTC)

will come to verb

"Someone who is idle will come to do evil." That's the definition I just gave idle hands are the devil's workshop. I wanted to link "come" or "come to" to its entry, but we don't seem to have the sense. And I wasn't (and am not) sure where to add it: at [[come]] or at [[come to]]. Anyone?​—msh210 (talk) 20:13, 30 October 2011 (UTC)