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‘Refute’ denied its conventional meaning

[8 Dec 2011] The distinctive meaning of ‘refute’, which is to disprove by giving convincing evidence, looks doomed as press and broadcast journalists commonly use it as a posh synonym for ‘deny’, eg ‘Mrs Roberts’s claim that she had been asked if she was a doctor was refuted as “completely untrue”.’ (Daily Mail)  

In chess columns, ‘refute’ retains its special meaning, eg a piece or pawn sacrifice is said to be refuted if the opponent’s response confounds it. Guardian columnist Deborah Orr also gives the word this meaning: ‘...the only way [Ricky] Gervais can refute the impression [of being bumptious and unlovable for using the word “mong”] is by doing something that his alter ego [David Brent of “The Office”] would never do, and making a sincere and intelligent apology for his repulsive verbal thuggery’. [MC]

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