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An experienced user posted this comment under an answer that cited M-W dictionary.

You say Btw, MW is the worst, most out-of-date dictionary on the planet!, but GKP regularly sings its virtues in public, and recommends it for students studying English linguistics at Edinburgh. Here is one of his quotes about it: "Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, with its 978 pages of brilliant and clearly explained objective scholarship ...". You can read that quote here.

As far as I know M-W is one of the most respectable sources regarding the English/American language, and it is one of the source that ELU recommends as reliable.

Is Merriam-Webster a reliable source or, as the original comment (that the one here is a reply to) suggests, a bad dictionary?

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    Who said this comment? And what's GKP?
    – Laurel Mod
    Aug 13, 2023 at 14:27
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    @Laurel - Geoffrey K. Pullum Aug 13, 2023 at 14:29
  • @Laurel - english.stackexchange.com/questions/610912/…
    – user 66974
    Aug 13, 2023 at 14:38
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    M-W uses old-school grammatical terms. That would probably be enough for contemporary grammarians to try to put the kibosh on it.
    – TimR
    Aug 16, 2023 at 10:59
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    Is there a way to reframe this to ask what the distinctive features of MW are and to justify their use or purpose instead of "is it bad?" Or just make it a discussion?
    – livresque
    Aug 23, 2023 at 23:20
  • Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (1989) is less a dictionary than an alphabetical series of entries dedicated to words and constructions that have at one time or another drawn the condemnation of commentators on proper English Usage. Merriam-Webster came to this task as one of the primary combatants (on the descriptivist side) in the descriptivist-prescriptivist wars of the 1960s and later. As such, it was perhaps not ideally situated to serve as a trustworthy source of (as Pullum puts it) "brilliant and clearly explained objective scholarship." ...
    – Sven Yargs
    Oct 18, 2023 at 1:26
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    ... With the benefit of Google Books and Hathitrust databases, one can find numerous instances where the source of some quasi-rule of usage that WDEU identifies was not the originator after all. I have noted in a main-site answer a striking instance where WDEU traces the shibboleth against preventative to a commentary published in 1869—when in fact it was condemned in an 1845 edition of ... MW's own American Dictionary of the English Language.
    – Sven Yargs
    Oct 18, 2023 at 1:28
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    User66974 and @Laurel, I've corrected the formatting of the original comment, and added the two important words at the beginning that were omitted! Had to add another little edit to the body of the post. As noted by Heartspring below, my comment was a reply to Bill's and is clearly a defence of MW! Dec 7, 2023 at 15:24

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No M-W is neither outdated or unreliable. It has an active staff of lexicographers working day and... well day... adding news words, marking old ones as obsolete, etc.

It is the most reliable American dictionary. It definitely skews towards the American variety, so some distaste could easily be found from non-American users.

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  • Which is not to say that it is the best. The online version is somewhat superficial, or rather it is harder to find the details of you want them. The OED, while not immaculate, is probably the best but may be too much of you're just writing a book report for school.
    – Mitch
    Aug 14, 2023 at 14:05
  • Cripes... "...may be too much if you're writing a book report..."
    – Mitch
    Aug 15, 2023 at 19:06
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The only thing I can think of to quibble with is the fact that MW uses its own special notation to describe pronunciations, instead of using IPA.

On the other hand, the IPA transcriptions used by Cambridge, Dictionary.com, OxfordLD, and Collins all use separate /ə/ and /ʌ/ symbols when transcribing AmE, which is a crime.

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  • Don't you produce the vowel of cup and the vowel of cut in different areas of the throat? I do. Cut is produced lower down in the throat and the vocal chords have a more sustained vibration. I'm from southeast Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia.
    – TimR
    Aug 16, 2023 at 11:11
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    @TimR That's irrelevant since in BrE they both have /ʌ/.
    – alphabet
    Aug 16, 2023 at 11:41
  • Sorry, I don't follow. You said the crime was that the distinction was being made for AmE. What does that have to do with BrE?
    – TimR
    Aug 16, 2023 at 12:10
  • @TimR British English has two vowel phonemes, /ə/ and /ʌ/. American English only has one phoneme here. It's not related to any allophonic difference between cup and cut; those have /ʌ/ in British English, so using separate /ə/ and /ʌ/ symbols wouldn't create a difference in their phonemic transcriptions.
    – alphabet
    Aug 16, 2023 at 21:48
  • (Note that dictionaries transcribe phonemes, not sounds. The /k/ in keep is pronounced differently from the one in cool, but dictionaries, quite sensibly, don't care about allophonic differences.)
    – alphabet
    Aug 16, 2023 at 21:51
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    What are some of the words where in BrE you find /ə/ or /ʌ/ ?
    – TimR
    Aug 16, 2023 at 23:50
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Tangential to the original question, which remains valid, I want to note here that you've misunderstood Araucaria's comment. I don't think Araucaria is anti-Webster, they were responding to a comment from BillJ:

Original comment:

If you can say "two hash browns", then you can also say "one hash brown", thus it can only be a normal count noun. Btw, MW is the worst, most out-of-date dictionary on the planet! – BillJ

To which Araucaria responded:

@BillJ You say Btw, MW is the worst, most out-of-date dictionary on the planet!, but GKP regularly sings its virtues in public, and recommends it for students studying English linguistics at Edinburgh. Here is one of his quotes about it: "Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, with its 978 pages of brilliant and clearly explained objective scholarship ...". You can read that quote here. You're on your own with that evaluation, it seems ;-) - Araucaria - Not here any more.

For what it's worth (not much), I don't consider M-W to be outdated or unreliable.

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    Yes, you are correct. Thanks. And in fact I came here to correct that misunderstanding of the original comment. But I think you've done that handsomely already. Dec 7, 2023 at 15:20
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There was a discussion of apposition on this site recently where I quoted in a comment what I thought was a succinct and accurate definition, from M-W:

a grammatical construction in which two or more usually adjacent words, phrases, or clauses (especially nouns or noun equivalents) that have the same referent stand in the same syntactical relation to the rest of a sentence

I highlighted this phrase

that ... stand in the same syntactical relation to the rest of a sentence

since it seemed key to distinguishing between the following:

Jane Doe, the lead soprano in the church choir, had a bad cold.

Jane Doe, soprano in the church choir, had a bad cold.

I learned my grammar before 2002 and would like to have an affordable (under $100) glossary of grammatical terminology as used in CGEL, something as clearly written as that definition from M-W.

P.S. I think that definition is representative of the dictionary's quality on the whole.

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  • Is this an answer to the OP or is it a new question altogether? If the former can you clarify how this addresses wither MW is outdated or reliable?
    – Mitch
    Aug 16, 2023 at 16:16
  • @Mitch It was praise of M-W. "succinct and accurate" and "clearly written". If someone thinks that definition of apposition is outdated or unreliable, they can chime in. I thought it might serve as a useful example.
    – TimR
    Aug 16, 2023 at 17:05
  • TimR You only gave an assessment for one entry on M-W. You should make that clear (that you only gave one), and also clarify that you consider that a representative example to support the idea that MW is both up to date and reliable. Also maybe give a link to your discussion?
    – Mitch
    Aug 16, 2023 at 17:24
  • @Mitch What I should do is add a remark that I think that particular definition is representative of the quality on the whole. As for the link, I cannot find the discussion -- can't remember what the actual title of the question was (it wasn't mine) and it's been a couple of weeks. If there's a way to search through one's own comments, I don't know how to do it.
    – TimR
    Aug 16, 2023 at 17:43
  • 'Jane Doe, lead soprano in the church choir, had a bad cold.' is so close to the appositive-containing one that one could argue for article deletion. As is often the case, what to call such relicts (if such they are) is problematic. Quasi-appositive? Dec 23, 2023 at 23:12

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