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denials and refutations

November 17, 2011

In today’s Guardian Zoe Williams claims that the way government policies bear particularly harshly on women is what happens when ‘you refute the underlying principle that we will all, at points in our lives, be fiscally unproductive and it’s the work of society to carry us.’ It’s curious that she should put it that way, because of course she doesn’t accept that the principle has been refuted. She believes in it passionately; she’s writing an article defending it. What she meant is that these unwelcome consequences happen when you deny the principle.

It shouldn’t need stating, but I’ll state it anyway: to refute something is to disprove or overturn it. To deny it is simply to claim that it’s untrue. But of course that claim itself could be untrue.

As everyone knows, words change their meanings over time, and ‘refute’, probably because it sounds as if it belongs in the same family as ‘reject’ or ‘repudiate’, seems to be drifting in their direction. To some people it just sounds like a slightly more impressive way of saying ‘deny’. I’m not prepared to accept that this change is inevitable just yet. The difference between ‘refute’ and ‘deny’ is a useful one and we should strive to maintain it as long as we can. I’d be grateful if both my readers could help out on this.


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One Comment
  1. C. Robshaw permalink

    I’m on board.

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