You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: logomachy

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:

LOGOMACHY

A post last week, “How we talk about grammar when we talk about grammar,” describes how online discussions about English usage degenerate when dogmatists (usually but not always of the hard-shell prescriptivist tendency) refuse to engage with evidence and authority, merely restating their unsupported assertions.

Such discussions are examples of logomachy (pronounced loh-GAHM-uh-kee), “arguments about words,” “contention over language.” Greek gives us the word, which combines logos, “word,” and makhia, “fighting.”

It was coined in English in the sixteenth century—we’ve been at this for a long time. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first citation is from 1596: J. Sanford tr. H. C. Agrippa Of Vanitie Artes & Sci. 169 Of so high a science they have made a certaine Logomachie.

Aux armes, citoyens!

Example: From Vardis Fisher’s City of Illusion, published in 1941 and resonant today: “A hackneyed purveyor of logomachy, designed to intrigue all the dolts and tomfools in a land where chuckleheads run for office and lackbrains make the laws!”

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