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Monday, 27 July 2009
No nay never, no nay never no more
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These days word-manglers juggle "deny", "refute" and "rebut" like a lot of balls. If I knew what triangulate meant, I'd say they that's what they were doing. Oliver Kamm, in-house pedant at The Times, clears the matter up once and for all:

 A long dispute about admissions data for an academy recently drew this sharp comment from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE): “It’s completely untrue that we turned a blind eye to incorrect data returns from London Metropolitan University. We also refute the fact that there was any change in attitude by HEFCE.”

The HEFCE spokesman managed to confuse not only deny and refute, but also (and bizarrely) “allegation” and “fact”. You can't refute a fact because, by definition, a fact is true. To deny something while inadvertently describing it as true is a defence of some incompetence.

Occasionally a writer will be aware that refute and deny mean different things but not be familiar with the exact distinction. There is a temptation then to use “rebut” in the sense of “deny”. It should always be resisted. To rebut a charge means to offer detailed evidence against it. In a debate, one side will rebut the argument presented by the other. If it merely denies the argument, then there won’t be much of a debate. If it refutes the argument, then it will have won the debate.

This holds good whether you are in London debating an issue, in New York debating a person or in transit between the two.

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Posted on 07/27/2009 8:43 AM by Mary Jackson
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