Defining is a Process of Exposing and Arguing Boundaries

The words we read often break down in important fashion.  De (away, from) and –fine are one of these.  (Definire, in Latin, meant to limit or determine.)  Definitions, then, have this feeling of ending things.  We’ll see, though, that they actually begin debate.  Since only a part of a word’s meaning is its dictionary definition—the vast complement being its many connotations, which you or I can be expected to bring—then we have a dynamic system.  (Dynam means power in Greek.)  We have to take seriously the idea that words matter and that they weave effects upon readers or listeners—even if the writer doesn’t know the story of the word.

Watch for boundaries between what’s left out and included.  Definitions are all about borders.  Like some nasty neighbors, tricky writers can try and get us to accept shifting borders.  Let’s keep an eye on what is involved (literally “spun into”) the definitions in this unit and the rest of the course!