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Usage Labels

Three types of status labels are used in this dictionary—temporal, regional, and stylistic—to signal that a word or a sense of a word is not part of the standard vocabulary of English.

The temporal label obsolete means that there is no evidence of use since 1755:

1per·du . . . noun . . . obsolete
gov·ern·ment . . . noun . . . 2 obsolete

The label obsolete is a comment on the word being defined. When a thing, as distinguished from the word used to designate it, is obsolete, appropriate orientation is usually given in the definition:

1cat·a·pult . . . noun . . . 1 : an ancient military device for hurling missiles
far·thin·gale . . . noun . . . : a support (as of hoops) worn especially in the 16th century beneath a skirt to expand it at the hipline

The temporal label archaic means that a word or sense once in common use is found today only sporadically or in special contexts:

1goody . . . noun . . . archaic
lon·gi·tude . . . noun . . . 2 archaic

A word or sense limited in use to a specific region of the U.S. has a regional label. Some regional labels correspond loosely to areas defined in Hans Kurath's Word Geography of the Eastern United States. The adverb chiefly precedes a label when the word has some currency outside the specified region, and a double label is used to indicate considerable currency in each of two specific regions:

pung . . . noun . . . New England
ban·quette . . . noun . . . 1 . . .Southern
3 pas·tor . . . noun . . . chiefly Southwest
do·gie . . . noun . . . chiefly West
gal·lery . . . noun . . . 2 . . . b Southern & Midland
1pot·latch . . . noun . . . 2 Northwest
smear·case . . . noun . . . chiefly Midland
crul·ler . . . noun . . . 2 Northern & Midland

Words current in all regions of the U.S. have no label.

A word or sense limited in use to one of the other countries of the English-speaking world has an appropriate regional label:

cut·ty sark . . . noun . . . chiefly Scottish
lar·ri·kin . . . noun . . . chiefly Australian
in·da·ba . . . noun . . . chiefly South African
spal·peen . . . noun . . . chiefly Irish
1bon·net . . . noun . . . 2 a British
book off intransitive verb . . . chiefly Canadian
1din·kum . . . adjective . . . Australia & New Zealand
gar·ron . . . noun . . . Scottish & Irish

The label British indicates that a word or sense is current in the United Kingdom or in more than one nation of the Commonwealth (as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada).

The label dialect indicates that the pattern of use of a word or sense is too complex for summary labeling: it usually includes several regional varieties of American English or of American and British English:

least·ways . . . adverb dialect

The label dialect British indicates currency in several dialects of the Commonwealth; dialect English indicates currency in one or more provincial dialects of England:

bo·gle . . . noun . . . dialect British
1hob . . . noun . . . 1 dialect English

The stylistic label slang is used with words or senses that are especially appropriate in contexts of extreme informality, that are usually not limited to a particular region or area of interest, and that are composed typically of shortened or altered forms or extravagant or facetious figures of speech:

4barb . . . noun . . . slang : BARBITURATE
2skinny . . . noun . . . slang : inside information : DOPE
bread·bas·ket . . . noun . . . 1 slang : STOMACH

There is no satisfactory objective test for slang, especially with reference to a word out of context. No word, in fact, is invariably slang, and many standard words can be given slang applications.

The stylistic label nonstandard is used for a few words or senses that are disapproved by many but that have some currency in reputable contexts:

learn . . . verb . . . 2 a nonstandard
ir·re·gard·les . . . adverb . . . nonstandard

The stylistic labels disparaging, offensive, obscene, and vulgar are used for those words or senses that in common use are intended to hurt or shock or that are likely to give offense even when they are used without such an intent:

grin·go . . . noun . . . often disparaging
piss away transitive verb . . . sometimes vulgar

A subject label or guide phrase is sometimes used to indicate the specific application of a word or sense:

2break noun . . . 5 . . . d mining
an·ti·mag·net·ic adjective . . . of a watch
1hu·mor noun . . . 2 a in medieval physiology

In general, however, subject orientation lies in the definition:

Di·do . . . noun . . . : a legendary queen of Carthage in Virgil's Aeneid who kills herself when Aeneas leaves her
je·té . . . noun . . . : a springing jump in ballet made from one foot to the other in any direction

Illustrations of Usage

Definitions are sometimes followed by verbal illustrations that show a typical use of the word in context. These illustrations are enclosed in angle brackets, and the word being illustrated appears in italics:

1key . . . noun . . . 3 a . . . <the key to a riddle>
com·mit . . . transitive verb . . . 1 . . . c . . . <commit it to memory>
2plummet intransitive verb . . . 2 . . . <prices plummeted>
weak . . . adjective . . . 4 . . . b . . . (2) . . . <history was my weakest subject>

Illustrative quotations are also used to show words in typical contexts:

con·flict·ed . . . adjective . . . <this unhappy and conflicted modern woman — John Updike>

Omissions in quotations are indicated by ellipses:

alien·ation . . . noun . . . 1 . . . <alienation . . . from the values of one's society and family — S. L. Halleck>

Usage Notes

Definitions are sometimes followed by usage notes that give supplementary information about such matters as idiom, syntax, semantic relationship, and status. A usage note is introduced by a dash:

1inch . . . noun . . . 5 : . . . — usually used in the phrase give an inch
2drum . . . transitive verb . . . 2 : . . . — usually used with out
1so . . . adverb . . . 1 a : . . . — often used as a substitute for a preceding clause
1sfor·zan·do . . . adjective or adverb . . . — used as a direction in music
hajji . . . noun . . . — often used as a title

Two or more usage notes are separated by a semicolon:

2thine pronoun . . . : that which belongs to thee — used without a following noun as a pronoun equivalent in meaning to the adjective thy; used especially in ecclesiastical or literary language and still surviving in the speech of Friends especially among themselves

Sometimes a usage note calls attention to one or more terms with the same denotation as the main entry:

water moccasin noun . . .1 : a venomous semiaquatic pit viper (Agkistrodon piscivorus) chiefly of the southeastern United States that is closely related to the copperhead — called also cottonmouth, cottonmouth moccasin

The called-also terms are shown in italic type. If such a term falls alphabetically more than a column away from the main entry in the print edition, it is entered at its own place with the sole definition being a synonymous cross-reference to the entry where it appears in the usage note:

cot·ton·mouth . . . noun . . . : WATER MOCCASIN
cottonmouth moccasin noun . . . : WATER MOCCASIN

Sometimes a usage note is used in place of a definition. Some function words (as conjunctions and prepositions) have little or no semantic content; most interjections express feelings but are otherwise untranslatable into meaning; and some other words (as oaths and honorific titles) are more amenable to comment than to definition:

1of . . . preposition . . . 1 — used as a function word to indicate a point of reckoning
1oyez . . . verb imperative . . . — used by a court or public crier to gain attention before a proclamation
1or . . . conjunction . . . 1 — used as a function word to indicate an alternative
gosh . . . interjection . . . — used as a mild oath to express surprise
sir . . . noun . . . 2 a — used as a usually respectful form of address

Usage Paragraphs

Brief usage paragraphs have been placed at a number of entries for terms that are considered to present problems of confused or disputed usage. A usage paragraph typically summarizes the historical background of the item and its associated body of opinion, compares these with available evidence of current usage, and often adds a few words of suitable advice for the dictionary user.

Each paragraph is signaled by an indented boldface italic usage. Where appropriate, discussion is keyed by sense number to the definition of the meaning in question. Most paragraphs incorporate appropriate verbal illustrations and illustrative quotations to clarify and exemplify the points being made:

ag·gra·vate . . . transitive verb . . . 1 obsolete a : to make heavy : BURDEN b : INCREASE
2 : to make worse, more serious, or more severe : intensify unpleasantly <problems have been aggravated by neglect>
3 a : to rouse to displeasure or anger by usually persistent and often petty goading b : to produce inflammation in
usage Although aggravate has been used in sense 3a since the 17th century, it has been the object of disapproval only since about 1870. It is used in expository prose <when his silly conceit...about his not-very-good early work has begun to aggravate us — William Styron> but seems to be more common in speech and casual writing <a good profession for him, because bus drivers get aggravated — Jackie Gleason (interview, 1986)> <& now this letter comes to aggravate me a thousand times worse — Mark Twain (letter, 1864)>. Sense 2 is far more common than sense 3a in published prose. Such is not the case, however, with aggravation and aggravating. Aggravation is used in sense 3 somewhat more than in its earlier senses; aggravating has practically no use other than to express annoyance.

When a second word is also discussed in a paragraph, the main entry for that word is followed by a run-on usage see . . ., which refers to the entry where the paragraph may be found:

2af·fect . . . verb . . . usage see EFFECT