Dictionaries do not make definitions. Definitions make dictionaries.

Posted on July 21, 2012


A dictionary is not the standard for definitions. A dictionary is a compiled catalog of cultural meanings. When someone tells you to “look it up in the dictionary,” it is merely as a reference point so that you can have common ground in which to interact and operate in your cultural context. But it (the dictionary definition) holds no authority.

What holds authority? Cultural reality and communication, holds authority. How a word is used, holds authority. How a people and culture develop, holds authority. Meaning is authoritative.

Why is this important? Meaning is relational, definitions are abstract. What a word means can only be understood through relationship. How a word is defined is irrelevant to relationship. So, stop referring to dictionaries as authoritative, and start referring to our collective humanity in a particular cultural context. Finding out that a word is used differently than the dictionary definition opens one up to a new reality, new relationships, new contexts, and a new human experience. Understanding a dictionary’s proper role and ontology can transform our hermeneutics, and humanize our community. Yeah, I really believe that.

By the way, it’s time to put “integrous” into the dictionary. Definition, adj., “having, or being characterized by integrity.”

Posted in: culture, epistemology