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I have seen several times lately, where people are discussing some topic and they have a disagreement about what a word means, then one party ends the discussion with something along the lines of "well that is my definition of it". I am not talking about a discussion around agnosticism/atheism, the most recent was a discussion about homeopathy.

Since when do we have personal definitions of words that are well defined in common dictionaries and reference sources?

I see no value in attempting to have a discussion with someone who uses their own personal definitions of words that differ from the definitions generally accepted by everyone else.

Your opinion?

By icolan
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28 comments

5

There are some people who regard a dictionary definition of a word to be the be-all and end-all of the meaning of that word. They are (blissfully?) unaware of the limitations that are inherent in dictionary definitions, and they use that as an excuse to deride what I say. I have no patience with such willful ignorance.

irascible Level 8 July 12, 2018
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So if you choose your own definition of a word, one that is not in dictionaries or common usage how do you hold a rational conversation with others?

@icolan How is your hypothetical question relevant to my observation?

@irascible Maybe I mis-phrased my reply, or mis-read you comment.

Let's try this, what do you consider to be limitations inherent in dictionary definitions?

@icolan By their very nature, dictionaries cannot give full expression, including connotations, to words that are rich in meaning. More specifically, context can add nuance to the meaning of a word.

@irascible Agreed, but while context and connotation can add nuance they cannot add something unrelated to the actual definitions.

@icolan Which is precisely why I lambast anybody who tries to misfit a dictionary definition into any given usage.

5

All discussions and debates require definitions.

JanGarber Level 7 July 12, 2018
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Agreed.

Agreed, and I am fine with people deciding ahead of time which definition of a word they are using. The problem I have seen is people pointing out that the definition being used is not what the word means and the response being "Well, that is my definition.". In the cases I am talking about the definition being claimed is not one associated with the word being used.

5

I tend to reject those who make up their own definitions to words and phrases.
I'm not putting up with that bullshit. Much the same as I will not put up with
"alternative facts". "Alternative facts" are LIES. Making up your own definitions
is unacceptable. There are books called "dictionaries". That's where the definitions to words come from. Yours don't count.

KKGator Level 9 July 12, 2018
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It's not supposed to be about making up definitions for a word, it's about defining the term you use to express an idea or set of ideas so you don't have to continually weave awkward semantic phrases into what needs to be a clear and easy to understand format. If a disagreement over a term or its definition arises, it can be handled more clearly and with less confrontation than 'that's not what that word means this is what it means.' Many words in the dictionary have multiple definitions.

@geist171 The types of arguments I have seen and am talking about are not people arguing over which definition they are using, it has been people claiming that a word has a definition to them that it does not have for anyone else.

@icolan Precisely my point.

@icolan @KKGator My mistake. Absolutely 100% agree.

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4

The dictionary describes how we use words, it does not
prescribe what words SHOULD mean. It is descriptive, not prescriptive. That’s why words are being added and definitions being added all the time. You do not appreciate how relativistic and non-absolute language really is. As far as people using their own definitions for words that doesn’t bother me at all as long as they spell out that definition. I may agree with something using an individual’s definition but not the commonly used definition. And as long as I can establish “Using your definition only, yes, I agree” I don’t feel like I have lost anything for it.

TiberiusGracchus Level 6 July 13, 2018

"It is descriptive, not prescriptive." Precisely! And I have one hell of a job getting that through to people who suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect! smile003.gif

Agreed, and I am not implying that dictionaries are prescriptive or written in stone. I do appreciate how relativistic and non-absolute language is, the problem I am referring to is when someone uses their own personal definition of a word to end a discussion. If they start the conversation out and explain that they view items X & 8 to be the same, it is possible to work with that. But when you have been discussing and it is pointed out that they are not the same and the response is "well that is my definition", the conversation becomes untenable.

3

Im down with everything in the dictionary except where “literally” now has a secondary definition of “figuratively” because so many people use it wrong. I will literally die on this hill.

Wurlitzer Level 7 July 13, 2018
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3

You are correct. Rarely should individuals use non-standard definitions of words. When they do, they should clearly note that their use is not standard and give a good reason for their particular re-definition. Sometimes, it is necessary to spell out explicitly what you mean by words like "local," "massive," or "large" since one person's large is another's medium. (Does not apply to Tee shirts.) smile009.gif For example, there is a concept of local standard of rest in astronomy. For stellar astronomers, it means the average motion of stars close to the sun, while for extra galactic astronomers, it's the average velocities of galaxies in the vicinity of the Milky Way.

TheAstroChuck Level 7 July 13, 2018
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3

Kind of like "alternative facts." Now it's alternative definitions.

I agree with you.

BlueWave Level 7 July 13, 2018
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English is a living language. Definitions are changed or added to all the time. As for personal quirks I differentiate between a film and a movie. In my view something like "On the waterfront" is a film and "Independence day" is a movie. I am not totally alone in this way of speaking but it has as yet not made it to the OED.

273kelvin Level 7 July 13, 2018
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3

I think it was Wittgenstein who said something along the lines of "don't blame language for your linguistic ineptitude." For some reason you sparked that memory. Perhaps people misuse words because their vocabulary is poor?

Quazi Level 6 July 12, 2018
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I wholeheartedly agree! However as an interesting (side note) addition to the valid point that you made, I must mention to you the great love I have for the English language including the history behind its derivatives... I so love the language that I years ago bought a copy of Noah Websters 1828 dictionary. One of the fun things that I discovered was that some words that I used in my communications had morphed into our so called "modern" usage, and were no longer accurate by definition when applied as such! I was astounded by the many alterations that have occurred...what I have previously stated does not necessarily lend credence to incorrect usage, however some (as rare as the case may be) perhaps have an insight...

VikingDawg Level 2 July 13, 2018
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The evolution of language can be a very interesting topic.

I have always had a fascination in the origins of our languages colloquialisms. Like" the whole nine yards" which came from ww2 era fighters that held 9 yrds. Of machine gun bullets when fully loaded.
Or a "shot of wiskey" which came about when in the early days of the West a bullet was traded as money. This probably concerns the "shot glass" as well..
Also there is a group on this site about words.

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When we stopped referring to dictionaries and started thinking that everything on the internet was true.

moonmaid Level 7 July 13, 2018
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I think it was Tues., March 18, 2014. smile002.gif

@TheAstroChuck good to know! Thank you for that information

@TheAstroChuck Is that just a date picked at random or did something significant happen on March 18, 2014?

@icolan Just a random date picked from an old checkbook ledger. smile002.gif

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Yea I hear ye..like "My definition of definition is different to you definition of definition, in my opinion" 😂🤣😉

Hitchens Level 8 July 13, 2018
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In Spanish-speaking countries people sometimes refer to a dictionary as a "tumba burros." This roughly translates as "knocks over donkeys." 😎

Flyingsaucesir Level 6 July 13, 2018
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So, how are definitions created? Words are continuously added and defined. Some words do have personal meaning, some are well defined and leave nothing to interpretation. Now, if someone said a taco was a green, leafy vegetable, I'd object. On the other hand if someone said a taco is a hard corn tortilla, filled with meat, then I couldn't argue that, but I prefer soft flour tortillas. Why is this a problem?

Stacey48 Level 8 July 13, 2018
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Why indeed?

The example you give would not be a problem, because both hard and soft corn tortillas filled with meat qualify as a taco, in some opinions you don't even need meat.

The problem I was referring to is when someone points out that X has nothing to do with % and the response is "well that is my definition".

@icolan Like spiritual? Because it has the word spirit in it it must be supernatural spirit?

@Stacey48 No, I will not have a discussion with anyone that involves the words spirit or spiritual unless they define them at the first usage as those are not readily defined and open to an enormously wide range of interpretations.

@icolan even the taco example could be a serious issue,say someone got food poisoning, then just saying all he ate was a taco would not be a exceptible desciption..when a exact definition might well keep others from getting sick..a fluor taco is just that and not just a taco.and I agree with you 100% but would add that in all cases we should say what we mean and be precise with the words we use...but always respectfully.

2

That also depends on said person's linguistic capabilities. Said person might be coming from a historical linguistic perception of the cognate. Words change and evolve with the social consciousness, not so much in the academic jargon.

The English lexicon has three levels of cognizance.

  1. Legalese ~ legal language is the highest form of cognition.

  2. Academia ~ academic language, or the proper use of word knowledge, philosophical rhetoric, and scientific dialect

  3. Common ~ (often refered to as slang), the common or simplistic use of a language vernacular. Simply put is the simplistic use of a language for the lower less educated classes of a soceity.

I agree with you. But new words can be formed/coined. Defintions can and do change, especially when dealing with the etymology of a term and its cognates. Just because something is socially accepted does not make it correct. Civilizations are ruled by misconception and the propagation of ignorance.

Most people have 0% knowledge of what we are speaking about.

Let me show you~

Define Government.

Etre Level 7 July 12, 2018
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New words can be formed, and definitions and usages do change, and someone has to start that. It just really annoys me when someone claims a definition for a word that is not part of any accepted definition and use that as their way of closing the discussion.

Like being told that using aloe for burns is a homeopathic remedy and pointing out that it is a natural remedy not a homeopathic one then being told that natural remedies are part of that person's personal definition of homeopathy.

Your example is a very good one by the way. I would love to see the results from a survey of Americans asking that question, it might make a good segment for a late night show.

Edited

@icolan

I see both ends. Most people in the commons do not know a dr. can follow a natural path ie. natural pathic doctors. They tend to associate homeopath with natural path. I also made this distinction in the begining of becoming a vegeterian and living a natural pathic life. It was latter in my years that i discover the creation and meaning of the term homeopath.

In defense of the argument, i must say several whole food type places and herb shops also spread the misconception in the social consciousness. But do they really??

You are 100% correct in your argument. But allow me weigh the scales just a bit. The term homeopath has a defined meaning that dates to the 19th century. Penicillian has not been created yet. All medicines prior to 1928 were herbalistic. Most people lived to far away from towns and doctors. People mostly had their own remedies passed down or lent through colloquialism.

Even today people used herbs, roots, and diet to heal themselves. So lets look at the term homeopathy/homeopathic/homeopath ~
Social Consciousness sways from bottom up. The higher conscious beings on top are always pulling the lower conscious beings, sometimes dragging.... the uneducated mind sees homeopath and infers a definition from their cognizance. We see two conscious thoughts in the term homeopath.... home/path. Most people of the time made their cures at home. Thus home in cognition to the definition. Then we see path, like one who follows that path in philosophy. And we get the term homeopathy and its infered meaning dealing with natural cures, herbs, roots, ect...

The true definition is not understood by these persons because they infered their definition of the term from the social consciousness, not the academic or legal language. Thus we as a society are developing a second definition of the term homeopath.

You are correct in your argument. But that person, albeit standing in ignorance, is apart of the social consciousness and helping the term to develope a second definition.

You are right to feel the way that you felt.

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2

An important part of discourse, which many seem to overlook, is the definition of terms. In theory, it should be one of the first things addressed by an argument. It is important to define your terms so that the discourse is about the topic, not a semantic argument about undefined terms and their interpretive uses.

geist171 Level 6 July 12, 2018
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1

Dictionaries imperfectly define current popular usage, not always what someone means in a specific context. There's nothing either sacred nor infallible about them.

For example for a long time (and still occasionally today), the dictionary definition of "atheist" reflected theist usage and misconceptions. It's entirely appropriate for me to say what atheism means to me and how I use the word, regardless of what the dictionary claims. As enough people have used the word in a philosophically clear and correct way, dictionaries have begun to reflect that.

In other situations there are multiple meanings that someone wrongly conflates in debate. A very common theist gambit for example is to try to elevate the failed epistemology of religious faith by conflating it with the more colloquial definition of faith which is basically just trust or expectation according to experience, when they are two very different and in some ways opposite things. In this case the dictionary is generally clear and correct but the user twists it to their own ends.

The first step in any debate is to define the terms used and agree on their meaning. Otherwise you're just talking past each other. While it's generally a good idea to agree on generally recognized meanings, sometimes it's better not to. One can accept a debater's definition for the sake of debate, because it's more fruitful to bypass that particular argument and say "even accepting your definition, you would be wrong because X".

mordant Level 8 July 13, 2018
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1

I subscribe to the following theory of truth which can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I have provided an extract as well as a link to the source.

1.1.2 The neo-classical correspondence theory
The correspondence theory of truth is at its core an ontological thesis: a belief is true if there exists an appropriate entity – a fact – to which it corresponds. If there is no such entity, the belief is false.

Facts, for the neo-classical correspondence theory, are entities in their own right. Facts are generally taken to be composed of particulars and properties and relations or universals, at least. The neo-classical correspondence theory thus only makes sense within the setting of a metaphysics that includes such facts.

[plato.stanford.edu]

If there is a disagreement about a word then there should be an honest attempt to present the facts regarding the origin of their evidence. If one debater is found to hold just an opinion then they have failed the test of corresponding truth with a fact.

kensmile4u Level 7 July 13, 2018
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1

The definition of words change over time. It's annoying as hell and a good way to help ensure division. Pick any so-called dirty, it doesn't matter to me. At least one of the definitions always described me quite well when I considered the perspectives of others. But when you consider the opinions of willfully ignorant people, logic might lead you to find everyone to be ...

mt49er Level 7 July 13, 2018
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I don't see the need to discuss anything with anyone. It's their silly opinion and I couldn't care less. My reaction would be to murmur "Um-hum," then glance at my watch and hurry away.

birdingnut Level 8 July 12, 2018
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This reminds me of how schizophrenic people are prone to coining neologisms.

Jagnostic Level 6 July 12, 2018
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Personally, I think it is possible to have a different PERSPECTIVE of anything, including the meaning of words. Life is subjective. If we’re talking SCIENCE, we can supply objective research/results to support our OPINIONS, but everyone may not agree. Physicists do not even agree. I think the bigger problem is what seems to be the human need to be RIGHT. I am old now, I no longer need to be right. That’s why I don’t want to argue or debate.

MissKathleen Level 8 July 12, 2018
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While I agree that a person's perspective can alter many things, I don't think subjective perspective is a valid justification for making up definitions for words.

@icolan I believe there are far more than 50 shades of gray.

@icolan well said otherwise no common ground is gained and then what's the point of it anyway...its basicly being blown off or hung up on. And this is a place for discussion.

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Don't care.

Sticks48 Level 8 July 12, 2018
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Thanks for sharing your lack of caring.....again.

I don’t care about things all the time. Commenting that you don’t care is self-contradicting. You know all those posts you scrolled passed without reading or commenting? Yeah, those are the posts you actually don’t care about.

Edited

@TiberiusGracchus, @BlueWave l love to share, good parenting. ☺

@TiberiusGracchus Like yours. ☺

1

I think you must be right. There's a wonderful example of what you're talking about in the YouTube video 'Black People Can't Be Racist'.

brentan Level 7 July 12, 2018
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1

I agree.

Donotbelieve Level 8 July 12, 2018
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