Friends of Semantic Compositions

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« Make them an offer they can't refuse | Main | Some Valentine's Day thoughts »

February 13, 2004



I suppose the thing is this: if I have to go around saying "I trust her," then there's a lady-doth-protest-too-much aspect to my trust. Whereas a quiet trust is perhaps more real. Try replacing "trust" with "faith": an explicit faith in someone sounds odd, as if you have to state that you have the faith for it to be real, whereas an implicit faith is one that is there by its own merits.

And I think the key to implicit is not "unexpressed" but "capable of being understood from something else" (MW's 1a) or "involved in the nature or essence of something" (1b). An implicit trust is one that isn't just taped onto something; it's one that's there by the very nature of the relationship or the like. If I have implicit trust in my wife, it's because I don't need to say it; it's understood from the fact that we have the relationship that we do.

(Incidentally, a lexicographic nitpick: "Webster's" doesn't actually name a dictionary. Any dictionary can use the name Webster. The dictionary you linked to is Merriam-Webster's, specifically Merriam-Webster's Collegiate as opposed to Merriam-Webster's New International. See also this Slate article for perhaps more information than you really want.)

Semantic Compositions

SC feels obliged to defend his use of the name "Webster's". Merriam-Webster posts this history of the rights to the Webster name for dictionaries on their site. Even that Slate article calls it "the only 'real' Webster's", based on the lineage. A connoisseur of dictionaries like Languagehat probably has more of an appreciation of the distinctions between the various M-W editions than SC can work up, especially since only one can be linked to for free. Since M-W has the best claim to the Webster name, and it's the only one SC ever cites as "Webster's", the practice is likely to continue.

As for your other points, though, they're well taken; unexpressed certainly doesn't seem to be the point of "implicit trust". It just seems to SC that there are other words which express the idea that trust is integral/essential/natural to a relationship more cleanly, without the meaning of "unspoken" hanging around. "absolutely" and "wholeheartedly" come to mind. SC acknowledges that this is a case of mention, as opposed to use, but once you're talking about trust, it seems that saying "I trust X so much that I don't say it" is a bit jarring.

language hat

Languagehat probably has more of an appreciation of the distinctions between the various M-W editions than SC can work up

Indeed, I keep old editions of the M-W Collegiate around because they drop entries (and sometimes entire appendices) with every new edition. Before I became a professional editor I tended to sneer a little at M-W (preferring the first edition of the American Heritage), but now that I use it for work every day I've developed a deep (if not implicit) appreciation for its qualities. I still think it's absurd that they lead off with the oldest definition, no matter how archaic or recondite, when most people will assume that the first definition is the most common or "best," but I stopped obsessing about that long ago. It's a damn good dictionary.

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