Word Ways

Article Title

What's the Good Word?


Philip M. Cohen


"What is an acceptable word?" has been the topic of a number of Word Ways articles. Answers range from "a Pocket Dictionary main entry" (for certain problems) to "anything remotely wordlike" (see "The Ultimate Adventure" elsewhere in this issue). I think, however, that it makes more sense to change the question to "what is acceptability?" noting that (1) words vary in acceptability, (2) the "unacceptability" line will be drawn at different points in the continuum by different people, or for different problems, and (3) a word's acceptability has at least two dimensions, centrality and reliability, which depend strongly on its source. Clearly defined scales of acceptability will not resolve the question, since people will disagree on the importance of this factor or that, but they should at least clarify discussions of the problem.