This certainly seems like a typo, but the circumstances make it so hard to accept that I thought I'd check whether there's an unusual usage that I'm unaware of.

In the novel The Liar's Dictionary by Eley Williams, I encountered this phrase (broader context to follow): "Whether a dictionary should register or fix the language is often toted as a qualifier." I was struck by the use of "tote"—it seems like it ought to be simply a typo for "tout." And yes, typos are wildly common in all books, especially "these days." But I have a hard time believing it since the poetic injustice in this instance would be staggering: It's in a book about meticulous relationships with words, in the midst of a preface riffing on the extended metaphor of a "perfect dictionary," and in a paragraph starting "That a perfect dictionary should be right is obvious," and an immediate context about rigid and proscriptive control of language. That a typo should slip into this sentence of all sentences seems—well, not inconceivable, but wildly coincidental. And even "tout" seems like a not unproblematic reading, given the "Whether" construction; it seems like a meaning akin to "debate" might be appropriate.

So, every dictionary I can find gives only the expected verb definitions of "tote"—either carry, or "tote up" a sum. But is there perhaps an obscure meaning of tote that fits this sentence?

Here's a broader context:


Let us imagine that you possess a perfect personal dictionary. A, the, whatever. Not a not-imperfect dictionary but the best dictionary that could ever exist for you.


To consider a dictionary to be "perfect" requires a reflection upon the aims of such a book. Book is a shorthand here.

The perfect dictionary should not be playful for its own sake, for fear of alienating the reader and undermining its usefulness.

That a perfect dictionary should be right is obvious. It should contain neither spelling nor printing errors, for example, and should not make groundless claims. It should not display any bias in its definitions except those made as the result of meticulous and rigorous research. But already this is far too theoretical—we can be more basic than that: it is crucial that the book covers open, at least, and that the ink is legible upon its pages. Whether a dictionary should register or fix the language is often toted as a qualifier. Register, as if words are like so many delinquent children herded together and counted in a room; fixed, as if only a certain number of children are allowed access to the room, and then the room is filled with cement.

The perfect preface should not require so many mixed metaphors.

(I suppose that one other explanation is that it's an intentional typo, introduced as a kind of "Persian flaw" on a page decrying "spelling and printing errors." Seems like the kind of two-layered (two-faced?) stunt that might be expected from something that wanders about an extended metaphor about perfection, then coyly draws attention to its own apparent shortcomings ("Oops, I guess I mixed one metaphor too many. Silly me!"), or that avers solemnly that a work "should not be playful for its own sake," then buries metaphorical children in cement, or (in the bit I omitted) waxes fantastic about "a typeface that would be played by Jeremy Brett or Romaine Brooks—a typeface with cheekbones," or daydreams about how leather covers, flicked with a thumbnail, "make a satisfying fnuck-fnuck sound."

But still implausible.

  • 2
    Perhaps carried around/taken along (like a tote bag) with every definition/discussion of what a dictionary should be. Tout seems more appropriate for a dictionary/usage guide that boasts it does one or the other.
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 7, 2021 at 15:55
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    Clearly, it should be: touted. Language can be touted as something but a language cannot be toted around like a bag. Please. Unless it's poetry or a song. [By the way, I don't find that writing particularly appealing or even good.] Sounds non-native: "To consider a dictionary to be "perfect" requires a reflection"?? Give me strength.
    – Lambie
    Dec 7, 2021 at 16:10
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    The sentence doesn't seem to fit. Whatever the correct verb is, without a by-phrase it's unclear who the caveator doing the toting / touting / spouting / shouting is, which introduces dissonance into the text. I'd want 'There is, of course, the ongoing debate regarding whether a dictionary should be descriptive or prescriptive'. // 'All words [being] infinitely polysemous', we'd all need our own dedicated perfect dictionaries, which would magically update every time we became aware of new (to us and/or global) shades of meaning. And include millions of caveats. Dec 7, 2021 at 16:14
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    IMHO, touted makes sense whilst totes does not. Dec 7, 2021 at 16:17
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    Ok, so, maybe tote is a non-dictionary Mountweazel. By the way, I once worked for a chamber of commerce, in charge of publications. I inserted the term "coke dealers" into listing of business codes (SIC codes). Well, by the time they realized it, it had already been published, and, "coke dealer" is not just about cocaine.
    – Lambie
    Dec 7, 2021 at 17:41

3 Answers 3


I believe tote is correct, and yes, there’s an obscure meaning of tote that suits this sentence.

Here’s a definition from Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language (Second Edition, Unabridged, 1939):

tote, v., t., & i. [see TOTE the total, 4th TOT] To tot; total; reckon; count. Colloq.

You can see that definition in tote’s second to last entry in the image:

definition entry for tote from Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language* (Second Edition, Unabridged, 1939

Let’s go with reckon:

Whether a dictionary should register or fix the language is often reckoned as a qualifier.

And now let’s look at a definition for reckon:

reckon v.
6. a. transitive. With complement, or with as, for, or to be. To regard, consider, or hold (a person or thing) to be something specified, or to be of a specified nature, quality, importance, etc.
[selected example usages]
c1850   Arabian Nights (Rtldg.) 181   He was reckoned one of the richest merchants in the city.
1870   J. YEATS Nat. Hist. Commerce 108   Quite a fourth of the soil is reckoned as unproductive.
1939   Fortune Nov. 62/2   A full year is reckoned as essential for making a civilian into a good soldier.
Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

Lastly, let’s plug in regarded:

Whether a dictionary should register or fix the language is often regarded as a qualifier.

I think this is much more plausible than a typo.

  • Yay! That's a plausible an explanation as any. Though I'd discounted it since most uses of that sense seem to focus on "toting up" multiple items. I wonder whether usage shifted. I'd love to find an example of it used for a singular item... Dec 7, 2021 at 18:29
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    @AndyBonner: You could swap in counted instead — if that brings it closer: Whether a dictionary should register or fix the language is often counted as a qualifier. Dec 7, 2021 at 18:44
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    The online m-w has that meaning for tote: : ADD, TOTAL —usually used with up. But I think don't think this meaning of reckon is the figurative one as in I reckon. m-w
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 7, 2021 at 19:00
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    @DjinTonic I tote you're right ... I reckonally agree. Dec 7, 2021 at 19:02
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    I think reckon in the Webster's definition pictured is just count, estimate, or compute m-w
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 7, 2021 at 19:44

Focusing on this other meaning of to tote (to total/add), I think the sentence could make (some) sense as:

Whether a dictionary should register or fix the language is often added / added in as a qualifier.

tote (v.)

ADD, TOTAL —usually used with up

toted up his accomplishments m-w

To add up; to calculate a total. Wiktionary


  1. To determine the total of; add up.
  2. To sum up; summarize. AHD
  • Again, my misgiving is that this always seems to regard arriving at a total of a number of things (TinfoilHat's 1939 entry makes it pretty clear that the etymology is simply an abbreviation of "total," not unlike the modern slang "totes" for "totally"). This reading would depend on implying a number of other unspecified "qualifiers," and it still seems odd to apply it to the individual entry rather than the group. (It might seem more likely if it were "is often toted among its qualifiers.) No, at the moment I think it's an (ironic) typo. Dec 7, 2021 at 21:16
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    @AndyBonner I think the ELU totalizer is currently displaying odds in favor of it being a typo. Criterion makes more sense than qualifier to me.
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 7, 2021 at 21:22
  • I'm seeing "toted" used for "touted" in Google Books -- are these all typos?
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 7, 2021 at 21:43
  • Looking at FumbleFingers' list, I'm inclined to say it's simply a not-uncommon usage error. If it were more widespread it would be a secondary usage, but I'm not sure it adds up (totes up?) to that yet. And see, again, I'd find a casual error unlikely in a book and a passage so self-consciously concerned with usage and definitions. Dec 7, 2021 at 21:52
  • Here's one example from Google Books: Because the American police officer represents a decentralized government, they are public servants who are often toted as armed, occupying forces. I can't get any synonym of tout to fit well here. It means seen as or regarded as. (Search toted as in Books.) Dec 7, 2021 at 21:53

is there perhaps an obscure meaning of tote that fits this sentence?

Not in the OED:

tote colloquial (originally U.S.).

  1. transitive. To carry as a burden or load; to transport, esp. supplies to, or timber, etc. from, a logging-camp or the like. Also, to wear or carry regularly as part of one's equipment; to take (a person) with one; to tote fair, to carry one's fair share; figurative to act or deal fairly or honestly.



3.a. intransitive. To look out busily for customers; to solicit custom, employment, etc. importunately; also, U.S., Australian, etc., to canvass for votes.

b. transitive (a) To importune (a person) in a touting manner; (b) to solicit custom for (a thing), to try to sell; also (U.S.) in extended sense, to recommend.

It's a mistake.

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