tr.v. re·fut·ed, re·fut·ing, re·futes
1. To prove to be false or erroneous; overthrow by argument or proof: refute testimony.
2. To deny the accuracy or truth of: refuted the results of the poll.
3. Usage Problem To repudiate.
[Latin refūtāre; see bhau- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
re·fut′a·bili·ty (rĭ-fy′tə-bĭlĭ-tē, rĕfyə-tə-) n.
re·futa·ble (rĭ-fytə-bəl, rĕfyə-tə-) adj.
Usage Note: Traditionally, the verb refute has two meanings. The first is "to prove to be false or erroneous," as in Charges of institutional bias against women were refuted by an analysis of the employment data. In this example, it is clear that an argument was mustered to demonstrate the falsity of the charges. This usage is well established as standard. The second meaning is "to deny the accuracy of," and in this use there is no mention or implication of mustering evidence or detailed reasoning. Rather, the refutation exists as a simple statement or claim. This second use has been criticized as incorrect or inappropriate since the early 1900s, despite being common. A majority of the Usage Panel accepts the use as a synonym of deny, but not by a wide margin. In our 2002 survey, 62 percent accepted the example In the press conference, the senator categorically refuted the charges of malfeasance but declined to go into details. This suggests that many readers are uncomfortable with this usage and would prefer to see deny in these contexts. Beyond these two meanings, refute is sometimes used to mean "to deny the validity of, repudiate," as in Observers are expecting the appeals court to refute the Microsoft breakup. The Panel has scant affection for this usage. Some 89 percent rejected the example just quoted in the 2002 survey.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.