Background and Example
On the German Stack Exchange, we had a lengthy discussion regarding the meaning of the word Gefäß. It was undisputed that a Gefäß is:
- an item which can contain liquids
- not flexible
The argument was about whether
4. artificial (in the sense of being modified by humans in any way)
should be added to the definition. My opponent would not call something Gefäß which complied to points 1 to 3 but not to point 4, e.g., a peculiarly shaped stone; I however would. The problem was there are very few objects for which point 4 makes a difference, as the vast majority of objects complying with points 1 to 3 also complies with point 4 anyway. Thus I considered the discussion rather moot, as few people have ever made up their mind as to whether point 4 is essential to the term Gefäß and it would hardly affect the actual usage of the term.
In particular, this made me think of whether people are actually likely to include aspects such as point 4 into their personal definitions of words, as it seems innefficient to me.
Is there any study or general linguistic argument regarding whether we tend to include less relevant details in our personal definitions of words, i.e., details which do not strongly affect the range of meanings a word covers. Or do we have some sort of Occam’s razor instead, which keeps our personal definitions simple?
Be aware that I do not ask how to solve the dispute in the example or analyse the example issue. I am really interested in general tendencies towards or against detailed word definitions.