I'm trying to help people express themselves better, where they start with a thought or feeling inside their head, and then find the best word that matches it, before adding distinctive qualities. So in a sense, they are starting with their own definition/description of what they are thinking and feeling...until they find the word that matches it. Then they can type that into search engines like OneLook to see if they can find better/more concise ways to express themselves.

This seems especially helpful with words like 'normal' that have more than one meaning--wordnet provides two that match so closely, there's no way of knowing which one is intended most of the time; one means to 'conform' and the other means 'near average.' So, helping people 'define' the meanings of the words they use seems like a very important skill to me, and the 'find the closest word and then add distinctive qualities' seems reasonable. I'm asking because I'm clearly not a lexicographer....

  • Your question suggests you think that people can learn to express themselves better by studying the 'bricks' from which they might construct their 'walls' (I hope you understand the analogy I'm using). Me, I think they'd learn better by studying well made walls and seeing how skilled writers (and speakers) have used their bricks. Nov 23, 2021 at 11:41
  • @HighPerformanceMark that is so true of people expressing common things, but what makes someone unique is what makes them unique...and quite often, that emerges in ways no one has felt or thought before (or at least they are aware of). It's only in those times someone 'needs' the help I'm wanting to offer, and this question refers to. I do like your analogy though and totally agree, but until someone has studied enough well made walls, especially when they are surrounded by nature or crumbling buildings, I'd like to offer another option.... Nov 25, 2021 at 1:53

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From a communicative perspective, defining words is counterproductive, because we don't distribute our personal word-definitions to those that we speak to. For example, "glory" can be defined as "a nice knock-down argument", and while someone might object that that isn't how glory is defined, I would simply maintain that a word means just what I choose it to mean.

Instead of striving to define words, one might strive to discover how others define words, and then select words according to that knowledge. Hence the words "bad" and "sick" have different meanings, depending on communicative context. Even the meaning of something as concrete as "dog" varies contextually.

You might try to define "normal" as "typical" plus something (I don't know what), but do you believe that everybody already knows the normal (standard, most general) meaning of "typical"? I think people already know the core meaning of "normal" and "typical" etc. but they probably have varying experiences with actual usage, so they may use a word inappropriately in a given context. Rather than adding words, we need an ever-evolving encyclopedia of contextual meaning: the connotation stuff.

  • My focus is more about thinking than communication. We unconsciously reason quite differently than consciously...and all we know from our unconscious is how we 'feel.' To consciously 'think' about our feelings, we must remain in the realm of less-specific feelings or find words we can 'manage' better. So my focus is more on going from feelings to words, and when words commonly have so many variations, it's critically important to 'know' the specific meaning of a word as we think, long before we speak or write. Word combinations or terms help, but they need established definitions too.... Nov 25, 2021 at 1:47

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