How do you accept the definition of a word?

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How do you accept the definition of a word?

Etymology
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Common usage
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40%
Authority (eg the Oxford dictionary)
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40%
Other
3
20%
 
Total votes : 15

How do you accept the definition of a word?

#1  Postby gooseboy » Mar 14, 2010 11:46 pm

There are, on occasion, some semantic arguments on this forum (in particular as to the true meaning of the word "atheist"). This made me think about how we accept definitions of words.

Using etymology seems a bit off the mark because with this method is something's "awful" then it's full of awe (a bit like awesome) and "terrific" is pretty much synonymous with "terrifying". Clearly such definitions are incorrect.

Using common usage also seems a bit off the mark because some words are often misused. For example people often use "literally" to add emphasis but I'm not prepared to say that a meaning of "literally" is "very much". Also, with this method the language would change rapidly. I think this probably isn't good, but maybe others disagree?

Arguments from authority aren't usually well respected in this forum (well.. at least not in its predecessor), but as the meaning of words is pretty much arbitrary (ie there's no logical reason that "bird" means "bird") I can't see that there's a better way. But maybe there is?

Does anyone have any thoughts?
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#2  Postby Sityl » Mar 14, 2010 11:48 pm

It's a great question, though I don't think I can vote, because generally, I like to point out that there are multiple ways to define a word, and point out who is right based on each definition. I also think which one should be employed depends on the topic at hand and conversation that has led to the discussion of which definition to use.
Stephen Colbert wrote:Now, like all great theologies, Bill [O'Reilly]'s can be boiled down to one sentence - 'There must be a god, because I don't know how things work.'


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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#3  Postby mmmcheezy » Mar 14, 2010 11:48 pm

Why not a combination of the above? Can't we take different items in to consideration when debating the actual meaning of a word? The obvious thing to do is start at the dictionary, but over time usages can change when definitions don't.
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#4  Postby Preno » Mar 14, 2010 11:52 pm

Opposing common usage and the dictionary is pretty bizarre. You do realize that dictionary definitions are based on common usage and that any good dictionary will include the meaning of "literally" which you're "not prepared" to accept, right?
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#5  Postby virphen » Mar 14, 2010 11:55 pm

Trying to find just one meaning for a word everyone can agree on seems to be a lost cause.

Typically around here it consists of the religious trying to tell us that atheism means that we are saying there definitely is no god, with atheists saying "well actually...". So who wins?

We do, we're the ones getting labelled, so we get to mark out the playing area.
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#6  Postby gooseboy » Mar 15, 2010 12:05 am

Preno wrote:Opposing common usage and the dictionary is pretty bizarre. You do realize that dictionary definitions are based on common usage and that any good dictionary will include the meaning of "literally" which you're "not prepared" to accept, right?

Really? Last time I checked the Oxford it doesn't include the meaning that I'm not prepared to accept. If you type "define: literally" into google you don't get meaning that I'm not prepared to accept. If you google usage problems of literally then you get the usage problem that I highlighted.

But for your main point, yes I know that dictionaries are based on common usage. But also, common usage is influenced by dictionaries. Which do you accept? The definition as used in a dictionary or a definition commonly used in street slang (or both)?
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#7  Postby gooseboy » Mar 15, 2010 12:10 am

mmmcheezy wrote:Can't we take different items in to consideration when debating the actual meaning of a word?

Not sure. I find semantic arguments annoying - I'd prefer to have a reference that everyone can agree on.
mmmcheezy wrote:The obvious thing to do is start at the dictionary, but over time usages can change when definitions don't.

Usually the meaning in dictionaries does change, but it changes much more slowly than common (mis)usage.
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#8  Postby gooseboy » Mar 15, 2010 12:11 am

virphen wrote:Typically around here it consists of the religious trying to tell us that atheism means that we are saying there definitely is no god, with atheists saying "well actually...". So who wins?

No-one. This is why I find semantic arguments annoying.
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#9  Postby mmmcheezy » Mar 15, 2010 12:12 am

gooseboy wrote:
Usually the meaning in dictionaries does change, but it changes much more slowly than common (mis)usage.

That's what I meant.
See, semantics argument! :whine:
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#10  Postby Preno » Mar 15, 2010 12:15 am

gooseboy wrote:
Preno wrote:Opposing common usage and the dictionary is pretty bizarre. You do realize that dictionary definitions are based on common usage and that any good dictionary will include the meaning of "literally" which you're "not prepared" to accept, right?

Really? Last time I checked the Oxford it doesn't include the meaning that I'm not prepared to accept.
Uh, yeah, I'm pretty sure you just made that up. I don't have access to the full version, but Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary says:
3 (informal) used to emphasize a word or phrase, even if it is not literally true: I literally jumped out of my skin.
Merriam-Webster online says:
2 : in effect : virtually <will literally turn the world upside down to combat cruelty or injustice — Norman Cousins>
Even my paper edition of Webster from 1988 says:
c) seemingly, but not really (a loose usage) [she literally flew from the room]
in b4 backpedalling
But for your main point, yes I know that dictionaries are based on common usage. But also, common usage is influenced by dictionaries. Which do you accept? The definition as used in a dictionary or a definition commonly used in street slang (or both)?
I accept the common usage (unless it's a specialized term), and a good place to find out what the common usage is happens to be the dictionary.
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#11  Postby gooseboy » Mar 15, 2010 12:24 am

Preno wrote:Uh, yeah, I'm pretty sure you just made that up. I don't have access to the full version, but Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

Didn't make it up but I stand corrected. :cheers: I checked the meaning of literally some time ago with an (admittedly old) Oxford after hearing people use it to mean "very much" and that meaning wasn't there. I checked "Define: literally" in google, and as I say that meaning wasn't there.
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#12  Postby Preno » Mar 15, 2010 12:26 am

Okay. I guess it's possible that older versions didn't capture that particular meaning.
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#13  Postby virphen » Mar 15, 2010 12:28 am

I hope the Alanis Morisette definition of irony never makes it in :(
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#14  Postby gooseboy » Mar 15, 2010 12:32 am

virphen wrote:I hope the Alanis Morisette definition of irony never makes it in :(

You mean being stuck in traffic when you're already late isn't ironic?
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#15  Postby virphen » Mar 15, 2010 12:33 am

gooseboy wrote:
virphen wrote:I hope the Alanis Morisette definition of irony never makes it in :(

You mean being stuck in traffic when you're already late isn't ironic?


No, but rain on your wedding day on the other hand...
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#16  Postby gooseboy » Mar 15, 2010 12:35 am

Now I'm pissed off. The meaning of literally which completely rubs me up the wrong way (don't ask me why) has made it into the Oxford. I think the only way forward for me is to abandon English and take up French.
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#17  Postby mmmcheezy » Mar 15, 2010 12:36 am

virphen wrote:
gooseboy wrote:
virphen wrote:I hope the Alanis Morisette definition of irony never makes it in :(

You mean being stuck in traffic when you're already late isn't ironic?


No, but rain on your wedding day on the other hand...


And you really must admit that a "No Smoking" sign on your cigarette break IS pretty ironic. Don'tcha think?
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#18  Postby virphen » Mar 15, 2010 12:40 am

mmmcheezy wrote:
And you really must admit that a "No Smoking" sign on your cigarette break IS pretty ironic. Don'tcha think?


Like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a good fork.
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#19  Postby irreligionist » Mar 15, 2010 1:10 am

gooseboy wrote:Now I'm pissed off. The meaning of literally which completely rubs me up the wrong way (don't ask me why) has made it into the Oxford. I think the only way forward for me is to abandon English and take up French.


Vraiment?
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Re: How do you accept the definition of a word?

#20  Postby irreligionist » Mar 15, 2010 1:11 am

virphen wrote:
mmmcheezy wrote:
And you really must admit that a "No Smoking" sign on your cigarette break IS pretty ironic. Don'tcha think?


Like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a good fork.


[Post reported for being lewd] :snooty:
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