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    • Join Date: Mar 2008
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    #1

    Description becomes Prescription

    Hello! I was interviewing for an article yesterday and he used the phrase "Description becomes Prescription." I said I was not familiar with that phrase, and he said it was an old saying. He declined to explain what it meant! anyone here familiar with it? thanks!

  1. BobK's Avatar
    Harmless drudge
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    #2

    Re: Description becomes Prescription

    Quote Originally Posted by Peggy1026 View Post
    Hello! I was interviewing for an article yesterday and he used the phrase "Description becomes Prescription." I said I was not familiar with that phrase, and he said it was an old saying. He declined to explain what it meant! anyone here familiar with it? thanks!
    I think I've met it, but very rarely. What it is saying is that present-day prescriptions about aspects of language often derive from descriptions of a change that happened long ago. For example, in the time of Chaucer there was a word pronounced (more or less) ['nıxtǝ] - where [x] represents the sound at the end of Scottish "loch"; a description of the sound at the time would have said so. Today, the prescribed spelling includes the silent letters "gh" but they once represented a sound (that could have been described); night club owners often spell it 'nite', and so do night-club advertisements (and indeed customers, sometimes) but the prescription is the norm.


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  2. BobK's Avatar
    Harmless drudge
    English Teacher
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    #3

    Re: Description becomes Prescription

    PS

    'Description becomes prescription' could be said of many apparently arbitrary spelling rules in English, but not all. The silent 'b' in "debt" for example was a prescription dreamed up by an interfering busy-body who wanted to show off his Classical learning (L. debitum) and make life difficult for English learners. Centuries before the 'b' appeared there was a perfectly good and b-free word that English had borrowed from French - dette.

    b

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