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I am always amused when people quote the dictionary. I have never known any such person to actually know how to use the book, or realize how common the [[denotation]]s are archaic and not relevant to the [[connotative]] use in the context at hand. Or maybe they are just trolling with an argumentative streak in their cognitive DNA.

A picture of a dictionary viewed with a lens o...

A picture of a dictionary viewed with a lens on top of it, at the word “Internet” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, how can you look up something like “liberal” or “conservative” in a DICTIONARY and have even the slightest inkling of a clue what it means in real-life current political context within your particular country? That is intellectually puerile in the extreme. Please, just stop. But if you can’t resist, at lest try to embarrass yourself less by having SOME idea how it works.

First, when multiple (numbered) definitions are given, don’t pretend they are a criteria list. Webster wasn’t writing a linguistic recipe book, but to cover the most common uses of any given word. Can more than one definition apply a the same time in a single use? Yes, because of nuance and overlap of concepts. Does it have to? No. If you point to the third definition and say it doesn’t match when another one clearly does, you’re clearly the idiot.

Secondly, don’t think a definition is truly “definitive” such that words are ONLY used as prescribed by the dictionary. It’s not just the fact that there are many different dictionaries and that they are updated all the time. It’s that the use of a word if often far too complex to render a static definition, especially an abstract one with extreme differences in connotation based on widely different uses and opinions.

Remember, it’s not a law-book for words that gives you the right to judge others. It’s a starting point for basic use. But if it’s a complex discussion, bringing it down to the dictionary level is regressing. Simple discussions may merit a trip to Oxford. There is a such thing as wrongly using a word. People make mistakes. But if the discussion uses a word to bring out assumptions and implications of what people may associate with it, please, step away from the book.


Let’s be clear I am not suggesting that words are to be arbitrarily used such that they become a one-man shibboleth. That is the opposite extreme of thinking everyone must use it the same way in a casual conversation such as Facebook until the specific field of usage is agreed or understood.

And in THAT case, we are still at the mercy of the initiated, i.e. the masses lacking formal education in a field, and should not make assumptions they will know the formal definition and use of a word within a specific discipline’s lexicon. SOME flexibility is required.

Miscommunication and clarification of intent can be managed. Pointing to Webster is simply not helpful unless the word is misused as a simple case of error, NOT due to ideological context.

My bottom line is that forcing conclusions and refuting arguments based on quoting literal definitions of complex, abstract concepts is rhetoric. It is insulting to the educated, thinking person, and reveals itself to be more clever than smart.