On dictionaries

Let us remember that the purpose of a dictionary is not to offer one, comprehensive, infallible statement of what something is.

It is a tool designed to present the best possible, brief, verbal pointer to a concept so that people may better understand and communicate. As a device based on language, it falls prey to the very kind or errors that it attempts to prevent or remediate. Were it otherwise, all dictionaries would have precisely the very same definition, without exception.

“The dictionary definition of X is…” at most a guideline. A dictionary’s definition is a starting point for a conversation, not an end point. Its purpose is to ease communication and understanding.

The real hard work and responsibility of genuine conversation and communication, is up to us, and not to be fobbed off on the tool.

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