I recently used the word disprefer in an email, and my spellchecker objected. That led me to a web search that convinced me that disprefer is (1) widely used in linguistics, (2) not listed in the OED, American Heritage, or Merriam-Webster online dictionaries, and (3) abhorred by some prescriptivists. This post is about to turn into another of those Language Log rants about some prescriptivist's blunders. My excuse for adding to this already copious genre? In this case the self-appointed critic aims his barbs directly at "linguists and their lackeys," (Yeah, really) who he describes as "idiotic" and "disaffected… from sense and thoughtfulness." When a guy calls you names like that and then gets three out of four of his examples wrong, it's hard to keep a civil tongue, but I'll try.
Robert Hartwell Fiske writes (in The Dictionary of Disagreeable English, 2006, p. 119:
"DISPREFER: Idiotic for dislike (or similar words)." He continues with four (attested?) examples and their proposed corrections.
1. *It's interesting as a spelling pronunciation, preferred by some speakers, dispreferred by others. USE not* Fiske fails to note that dispreferred expresses a contrary negation, not simply a contradictory one. The writer is excluding the possibility that the dispreferring speakers might be merely indifferent to the pronunciation in question, but the use of not would include that possibility.
2. *They never spontaneously produce them; in fact, they strongly disprefer them. USE object to.* The word produce indicates spoken language and spoken choices are rarely conscious. Since object to presupposes conscious choice, it would not be apt here.
3. *In a pinch you can fax it to me at [apparently a real fax number], but I disprefer faxes because of deficient legibility. USE dislike.* The writer intends that he or she prefers other media of communication to faxes. Disprefer does that job directly; dislike indirectly at best.
4. *Other things being equal, we should disprefer blogs to journalism. USE prefer journalism to blogs.* I can't say he's clearly wrong about this one, depending on the information structure of discourse or text. If blogs are the topic, there's a lot to be said for making it the direct object rather than an oblique, the object of a preposition. On the other hand, if there's no strong information structure motivation, there's no reason to use the less frequent and more technical verb. I won't score this one as an error for Fiske, though I suspect it may be.
Robert Hartwell Fiske's summary: "Among linguists and their lackeys, disaffected as they often are from sense and thoughtfulness, disprefer actually does exist. No sentence is improved, none made true or clear, by using disprefer instead of some other wording." No sentence, Mr. Fiske?
In this case at least "disagreeable" applies better to the author of the criticism than the object.