This post is one in a series about The Negative Canon.
I’ve covered some of the main components that make up the grammar section of the Negative Canon. It’s time to move on to vocabulary.
One of the meanings of anticipate is ‘forestall’, that is, to act to prevent or minimise the consequences of a foreseen event. Can it be used simply to mean ‘expect’? In ‘A Guide to English Language Usage’, Peter Harvey writes:
Anticipate is frequently used informally by native speakers as a synonym of expect but this is regarded as incorrect by some people.
In ‘Mind The Gaffe’, R L Trask also admits that this use is found, but he advises against it:
. . . for about two centuries the word has also been used in the sense of expect . . . This sense is now so well established that it can hardly be regarded as wrong, yet a number of conservative speakers still object to it, and some handbooks condemn it, while others are resigned to it. My advice is to avoid anticipate in this sense and to write expect instead.
The caution which both writers express is no doubt wise given the readers they are writing for. After all, of the nine definitions of verb anticipate in the OED, none defines it as meaning ‘expect’. However, Oxford Dictionaries Online, which focuses on current English and includes modern meanings and uses of words, gives as its first definition of anticipate, ‘regard as probable; expect or predict’.
But as ‘Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage’ says:
The plain fact of the matter is that in some instances anticipate comes close in meaning to some meanings of expect. And in some instances it comes close to predict, foresee, look forward to, forestall, foreshadow.
MWDEU then goes on to cite eleven examples of the use of anticipate, of which some do not mean ‘forestall’, and some do not mean ‘expect’ either, but they all fall within the range of the OED’s 9th definition ‘To look forward to, look for (an uncertain event) as certain.’
Anticipate is a versatile word. Those who rail against its use to mean ‘expect’ generally consider it in isolation. Like all words, it takes its precise meaning from its context, and it will normally be clear when its meaning is ‘expect’ and when it is ‘forestall’. It will also normally be clear when it means neither.