Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: refute.

refute. “Refute” is not synonymous with “rebut” or “deny.” That is, it doesn’t mean merely “to counter an argument” but “to disprove beyond doubt; to prove a statement false.” Yet the word is commonly misused for “rebut” — e.g.: “Ontario Hydro strongly refuted [read ‘denied’ or ‘rebutted’] the charges, saying none of its actions violate the Power Corporations Act.” Tom Blackwell, “Local Utilities Sue Ontario Hydro over Pricing,” Ottawa Citizen, 25 Apr. 1997, at D16. Sometimes the word is misused for ‘reject’ — e.g.: “Two-thirds of people refuted [read ‘rejected’] [Nicholas Ridley’s] belief that European Monetary Union is a ‘German racket to take over the whole of Europe.'” Toby Helm, “Majority Back Euro Ideals,” Sunday Telegraph, 15 July 1990, at 1. “Confute” is essentially synonymous with “refute” in the sense “to prove to be false or wrong.” It’s probably the stronger term, but it’s much rarer. Language-Change Index — (1) “refute” misused for “rebut” or “deny”: Stage 1; (2) “refute” misused for “reject”: Stage 1. ——————- Quotation of the Day: “Every human group that anthropologists have studied has spoken a language. The language always has a lexicon and a grammar. The lexicon is not a haphazard collection of vocalizations, but is highly organized; it always has pronouns, means for dealing with time, space, and number, words to represent true and false, the basic concepts necessary for propositional logic.” George Miller, “The Psycholinguists” (1964), in Readings in Applied Transformational Grammar 21, 32 (Mark Lester ed., 1970).
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