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English Dictionaries
by [?]

It has already, I believe, been said more than once in print that one condition of a good dictionary would be to exhibit the history of each word; that is, to record the exact succession of its meanings. But the philosophic reason for this has not been given; which reason, by the way, settles a question often agitated, viz. whether the true meaning of a word be best ascertained from its etymology, or from its present use and acceptation. Mr. Coleridge says, ‘the best explanation of a word is often that which is suggested by its derivation’ (I give the substance of his words from memory). Others allege that we have nothing to do with the primitive meaning of the word; that the question is–what does it mean now? and they appeal, as the sole authority they acknowledge, to the received–

Usus, penes quem est jus et norma loquendi.

In what degree each party is right, may be judged from this consideration –that no word can ever deviate from its first meaning per saltum: each successive stage of meaning must always have been determined by that which preceded. And on this one law depends the whole philosophy of the case: for it thus appears that the original and primitive sense of the word will contain virtually all which can ever afterwards arise: as in the evolution-theory of generation, the whole series of births is represented as involved in the first parent. Now, if the evolution of successive meanings has gone on rightly, i.e. by simply lapsing through a series of close affinities, there can be no reason for recurring to the primitive meaning of the word: but, if it can be shown that the evolution has been faulty, i.e. that the chain of true affinities has ever been broken through ignorance, then we have a right to reform the word, and to appeal from the usage ill-instructed to a usage better- instructed. Whether we ought to exercise this right, will depend on a consideration which I will afterwards notice. Meantime I will first give a few instances of faulty evolution.

1. Implicit. This word is now used in a most ignorant way; and from its misuse it has come to be a word wholly useless: for it is now never coupled, I think, with any other substantive than these two–faith and confidence: a poor domain indeed to have sunk to from its original wide range of territory. Moreover, when we say, implicit faith, or implicit confidence, we do not thereby indicate any specific kind of faith and confidence differing from other faith or other confidence: but it is a vague rhetorical word which expresses a great degree of faith and confidence; a faith that is unquestioning, a confidence that is unlimited; i.e. in fact, a faith that is a faith, a confidence that is a confidence. Such a use of the word ought to be abandoned to women: doubtless, when sitting in a bower in the month of May, it is pleasant to hear from a lovely mouth–‘I put implicit confidence in your honor:’ but, though pretty and becoming to such a mouth, it is very unfitting to the mouth of a scholar: and I will be bold to affirm that no man, who had ever acquired a scholar’s knowledge of the English language, has used the word in that lax and unmeaning way. The history of the word is this.– Implicit (from the Latin implicitus, involved in, folded up) was always used originally, and still is so by scholars, as the direct antithete of explicit (from the Latin explicitus, evolved, unfolded): and the use of both may be thus illustrated.

Q.‘Did Mr. A. ever say that he would marry Miss B.?’–A.‘No; not explicitly (i.e. in so many words); but he did implicitly–by showing great displeasure if she received attentions from any other man; by asking her repeatedly to select furniture for his house; by consulting her on his own plans of life.’