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My so-called friends have fallen under a spell
They look me squarely in the eye and they say, “All is well”
       —Bob Dylan, Precious Angel gives two completely opposite definitions for so-called:

  1. “called or designated thus”
  2. “incorrectly called or styled thus”

TheFreeDictionary adds “Commonly” to the first of those two definitions. So something so-called is either commonly called so, or it is incorrectly called so. Which one of the two intended by the writer, apparently to be drawn by the reader from context and inference. For instance, no doubt Dylan didn’t intend the first of those two definitions, having no need to indicate common usage.

The Urban Dictionary merges the two definitions into a single one: “commonly or popularly but often inaccurately so termed” (side-stepping using the word “called” to close its own definition into a circle).

But my 1980 printing of The Compact Edition of the OED gives the two separate competing definitions. For the first, a sub-definition even points to qualifying the adjective (in most such cases, without its hyphen) with “properly,” apparently so as to indicate the calling to be correct. As in, “Her so-called friends, once properly so called, used to be friends until she shunned them as mere ‘friends.'”

Hmmmm, those pesky quotation marks. TheFreeDictionary’s definition included a usage note that caught my eye . . .


//] - so to speak


Pages: 1 2 3 4

Written by macheide

21 April 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in so to speak

Tagged with ,


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