Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: stultify.

“Stultify” formerly meant “to attempt to prove mental incapacity.” By modest extension, it came to mean either “to make or cause to appear foolish” or “to put in a stupor.” E.g.: “Rote liturgy can stultify as well as edify.” Daniel B. Clendenin, “Why I’m Not Orthodox,” Christianity Today, 6 Jan. 1997, at 32. Then, by slipshod extension, it took on the sense “to make useless or futile; to undermine; to negate or retard.” Avoid this loose usage — e.g.: o “Nostalgia . . . can stultify [read ‘sap’] a restaurant’s vitality.” William Rice, “Nostalgia Is a Sweet Menu Item,” Chicago Trib., 28 July 1995, at 4. o “Finally, many fear the political chaos will stultify [read ‘undermine’] peace talks with the Palestinians.” “Israeli Political Scandal Not Over Yet,” State J.-Register (Springfield, Ill.), 27 Apr. 1997, at 12. The word is sometimes misunderstood in two ways. First, it’s sometimes (by still further extension) misused for “squelch” or “stifle” — e.g.: “These labels in all areas of our political life stultify [read ‘squelch’ or ‘stifle’] discussion . . . as well as fostering intolerance throughout the political spectrum.” Guy Charlton, “Cultures Must Be Respected,” Wis. State J., 8 May 1993, at A7. Second, it’s sometimes misused for ‘disgrace’ or ‘dishonor’ (or perhaps ‘stupefy’) — e.g.: “‘Nonconformity’ is Algren’s last great cry against injustice, a howl against all that would stultify [read ‘disgrace’? ‘degrade’?] the human spirit.” Tom Grimes, “‘Nonconformity’ a Last Cry for Society’s Injustices,” Austin Am.-Statesman, 1 Dec. 1996, at E6. Language-Change Index — “stultify” misused to mean “stifle” or “undermine”: Stage 1. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Next in criminality to him who violates the laws of his country, is he who violates the language.” Walter Savage Landor, Classical (Imaginary) Conversations 301 (1901).
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