Tuesday, November 14, 2006

About Definitions

There is an art to writing lexical definitions. The problem for WiktionaryZ is, that this art has to be relearned. Definitions need to be concise. There is however no reason not to use full sentences. Abbreviations are not needed as there is plenty of space on the hard drives of modern computers.

One accepted practice in the dead wood dictionaries is to define by using synonyms. For WiktionaryZ it leads to circuitous definitions because the definition defines the synonym as much.

Another thing is to use bad constructs like "To do something (to someone)". This looks bad, it is better to just say "To do something to someone". There is no reason why we cannot produce full sentences without constructs that are inherited from existing dictionaries. If they were from existing dictionaries, they might be in line for improvement.

Yet another thing that we should not do is be overly specific and correct. The definitions define; they show what it is about. When this is not defined in "sufficient" detail, it often proves that there is a need for an encyclopaedic article and, that is when we need to refer to the Wikipedia article about the topic.

Thanks,
GerardM

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The purpose of a construct like "to do something (to someone)" is to indicate the verb's construction. The difference between between "to eat (a meal)" and "to eat a meal" is that the former indicates the kind of object the verb takes, and the latter indicates that the object is implied in the verb itself (as in the verb 'to dine', which has the latter but not the former definition). In inflected languages such placeholders are also used to indicate the case forms involved in using the verb (i.e. it may take a genitive, or two accusatives)--but your example also shows the principle applies to prepositional constructions in non-inflecting languages as well.

In any case the correct reduction of "to do something (to someone)" is not "to do something to someone" (which changes the meaning) but merely "to do something" -- and if that is too vague, then the definition needs to be rewritten.

12:47 pm  

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