Saturday, October 23, 2010

What is a definition?

The facts upon which definitions are based are so varied and complex and at times intangible that it requires a giant volume typeset in small print to make the “meaning” of a language understood.

Definitions appearing in the dictionary are precision essays. One takes a word out of the language, a word with countless connections to every other word; a word with history, influence, connotations, and emotion; a word with a unique sound and intonation and which attempts to circumscribe a part of the human experience and assign it to a word. The organizational human brain whittles down an infinity of possibilities, mental tokens, symbols, and feelings into a taut collective that gives simultaneously the broadest and narrowest scope allowable. This tiny audible drama draws together otherwise disparate minds in a repetitive performance, actor and audience indistinguishable in the resulting spectrum of cerebral communion.

A definition is only involved in the scientific method to the extent that observations have been made as to the character of other speakers’ uses of words; and these utterances based on nothing more than childhood imprinting. Therefore, the dictionary is not only a precision essay, but really a minute persuasive composition. It comes complete with etymology and annis and the occasional quote from a refereed source to demonstrate that this particular stance has the witness of ages.

Writers work on essays of many different lengths. Poets on poems of varied meter and line. Of all the genres, the definition is the ultimate terse expression of intellect, a paring down of all unnecessary ornament to leave just visible the outline of a single word.

Poets may weave phrases that expose more of the internal, unspoken self. Dance may connect individuals more viscerally than flapped-tongue speech. Music may move the soul more paces than any mere word can motivate. But the definition, the sweet seed of language, strikes at the core of what a word is, where it has been, where it is going, and what it can do, today, to bring minds together to work towards that singular human purpose of expanding and contracting the very universe in which we live, making it reside within and between and among us, to enrich our days under the sun and enliven the planet for this day and beyond.

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