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Rosie Right

Readers, shall we dialogue?

This morning Rosie heard a report on ABC's "Good Morning America" that told us that the United States had agreed to enter a dialogue with China and North Korea. Aha! I thought, gotcha. If you dialogue, it has to be with one other party, not several.

Like most quick thoughts, this one seems to be incorrect. Webster's New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition tells us that dialogue is "a talking together. … "interchange and discussion of ideas. …" Nothing at all about the number of people or groups involved.

Webster's Dictionary of English Usage tells us more:

"There is a variety of comment on the noun dialogue Kilpatrick [James J. Kilpatrick, The Writer's Art] 1984 says, 'At some point in recent semantic history, a curious notion took root that dialogue should be restricted to describe a conversation between two persons only.' This is apparently a delicate allusion to, among others, Edwin Newman, whose discussion of Gerald Ford's use of dialogue … is based on that notion, and Shaw [Harry Shaw, Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions, 1975, 1987] … where dialogue is said to be from the Greek for 'two words.' Not only is Shaw in thrall to the etymological fallacy, but the Greek etymology does not contain the notion 'two' at all. Anyone who reads the etymology of the word in a good dictionary will see that Greek dia means 'through, across, apart and several other things' but never two. Restriction to two is also mentioned at the entry in the OED, where it is called a tendency."

So much for snap judgments of others' usage.

The following is from "The Quiz" in the newsletter Copy Editor, April-May issue:

How many mistakes does the following sentence contain?

Even those to the manner born can occasionally forget proper etiquette.

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