Acceptation: so modern and meta

Admit it: if you read the word acceptation in a newspaper or blog, you would probably pause. You might think: What publication am I reading? Is it legit, or have I gone too far down the rabbit-hole again? Is there any sign of an editor around here? Perhaps English isn’t the author’s first language? And you might even reach for a dictionary. It’s surely a mistake, you’re thinking. They must mean acceptance

But if you go to the right dictionary (i.e. the trusty OED), you’ll find that not only is acceptation an acceptable word in standard modern English but it has a wonderfully “meta” definition.

The first four definitions of acceptation listed by the OED* are relegated to the dusty old corners of rare and obsolete. But then we get to the fifth definition, and lo and behold there’s no italic tag consigning it to the annals of ancient vocabulary. There it is, standing modern and proud, the fifth meaning of acceptation:

“5. The sense in which a word or sentence is understood; the accepted meaning or purport of something.”

And here to prove it are two recent examples (including one from earlier this morning):

2007  Daily Telegraph,14 July 26  “In the first 100 [pages], the word ‘shit’, in its various acceptations, appears 10 times.

2019  Christophe Thibaud Le Blog Des Octos 6 May 19 “Therefore, I wish to keep only this acceptation of the term “technical debt” … And I want to rid my vocabulary of the term “technical debt”…”

And wait — there’s another modern definition. As well as being acceptable in the context of words and meaning, acceptation also makes sense when it comes to money. Here’s the sixth definition, still in use today:

6. Finance. The action or an act of formally accepting the liability to pay a bill of exchange when due. Also: a draft or bill of exchange that has been accepted.

1999  E. Eldem French Trade in Istanbul in 18th Cent. “The weakest point in the whole network had to do with the acceptation of the bill.”

* the archaic definitions of acceptation:

  1. favouritism on personal grounds (rare)
  2. the action or act of receiving something favourably (rare)
  3. The action or fact of willingly receiving something offered or given (rare)
  4. The state, condition, or quality of being accepted or acceptable (obsolete)

Hat-tip to Andrea for bringing the word acceptation to my attention, and hats off to Christophe Thibaud for using it appropriately in his blog post this morning.

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