OPINE [oh-PAHYN]: the forming of judgment or stating an opinion

opine

The encouraging of people to express an opinion carries a risk with it.   It might just be that the opinion expressed is troublesome…and may actually be counter to the very point that you are trying to make.   But if you are truthful that you are really looking for diverse opinions, you are safe in opening the door to contradiction.

What happens after such a request is that people opine, or express a judgment or opinion.  It is a word that has undergone a transformation, according to Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage.  the word opine has taken on a negative quality, indicating that the opinion or judgment expressed is based upon insufficient grounds.  Evidently that is the most common understanding these days when someone is said to have “opined” on a topic.  Garner says that the reference to someone opining is an act of cheapening the opinion.

We live in an age of prolific quantities of opinions.   People opine all the time through social media.  In fact, that is exactly what I am doing in writing a daily blog.    I like to think that the opinions I express are well-grounded, but occasionally it is pointed out to me that I have not done sufficient research and need to temper my opinion.   Probably.

One of the forms of opinion is something I studied a long time ago in a basic philosophy class in college.   It is called a value judgment.  If a person says something like “Carrots taste terrible,”   for instance, the person is expressing a personal opinion.  But it is expressed in a way that it is meant to be authoritative.   If we are to take the person’s opinion as fact, we are agreeing that all carrots have a terrible taste.  The fact is that some carrots do not taste terrible…it is just a personal opinion, a value judgment.  The person speaking has placed a value on something without having the authority to do so, and from a limited (personal) perspective.  In reality, many people like the taste of carrots and would disagree.

That is, in a simplistic form, what Garner is referring to when he says that when someone opines they are offering a judgment of limited value.   It is just one person’s opinion, and it is clearly not a universally-accepted opinion.

Garner suggests that there is a perfect example of opine which is found in the political world.

Since the word sometimes implies authoritativeness, sometimes disingenuousness, and sometimes ridicule, it’s perfect for denoting political spin control–e.g.: ‘Almost as the applause [from the State of the Union Address} still echoed, the audience practically sprinted out to parse, opine and analyze beneath the bright television lights set up in a marble chamber near the House floor.’ “ (p. 595)

Given that we are officially entered into the 2014 election season, it’s well to remember the word “opine” and stand ready to apply it to the hours and hours of speech making we are about to endure.

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Illustration Credit: Simply Human

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