Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Lexicography Wars – Why It’s So Difficult To Define Short Words


Generally speaking, the smaller and more commonly used the word is, the more difficult it is to define. Words like “but,” “as,” and “for” have plenty of uses that are syntactically similar but not identical. Verbs like “go” and “do” and “make” (and, yes, “take”) don’t just have semantically oozy uses that require careful definition but semantically drippy uses as well. “Let’s do dinner” and “let’s do laundry” are identical syntactically but feature very different semantic meanings of “do.” And how do you describe what the word “how” is doing in this sentence?

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