Definition - Practicing or advocating descriptive linguistics, i.e. the belief that the linguist's proper role is to observe and describe language behaviors, rather than to prescribe how people should speak.
Note: Those who describe are called descriptivists, whereas those who prescribe are called prescriptivists.

Prescriptivists vs. Descriptivists

In this excerpt from the Story of English, Robert MacNeil pits the prescriptivist John Simon against the descriptivist Jesse Sheildlower.

Oxford English Dictionary -
The word's first citation is its definition in the 1961 edition of the Webster's New International Dictionary.
(Webster's New International Dictionary)

Quotation -
"One of the most striking features of American descriptivism in the 1940s was its insistence on justification in terms of precisely specified procedures of analysis."
(Source: Noam Chomsky, Cartesian Linguistics (1966), page 106 )

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