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Refute this!

This is a very risky posting. It’s about words, and how we use them. The subject word is “refuteâ€?. This is a word which politicians and lawyers (or policemen; Sir Ronnie Flanagan being the latest) have use for, but it is its misuse that is the focus of attention. It is sometimes used as a substitute or synonym for “denyâ€? or “contradictâ€?.

I contend that this misuse is not accidental. It is chosen because at some level of consciousness the speaker/writer understands its real meaning, which is:

“to prove to be false or erroneous, as an opinion or chargeâ€?

However, if you say you refute what Mr. X has said, it carries the implication that he has been completely defeated on the issue and can have nothing more to say about it, a state of affairs much desired by politicians, say.

But it is not correct to say that you “…refute what Mr. X saysâ€?, you must say you “…have refuted himâ€?. Of course, before you say that, you must actually refute what he says or claims. You do that by adducing evidence. If that evidence conclusively disproves what Mr. X claims, then he is refuted. You can then say you have refuted him.

I contend the misuse of “refuteâ€? is evidence of bad faith. It is intended, at some level, to carry the claim of “…having refuted himâ€?, when in fact all that has happened is the issuing of a denial. Denials are respectable; they are weakened, however, by claiming they are refutations, and that weakness is a chicken that should be brought home to roost as soon as possible.