Lesson #404: Order of Definitions

Happy 2018, everyone! I’m a bit late to the game, in part because I’ve been a bit all over the place with other things going on last week. Monday was a holiday. Everyone I know had a birthday (not literally speaking, but there was much birthdaying to be done). The World Juniors hockey tournament was happening. The Swede had a baby — well, his wife actually *had* the baby. The swim team I help with were back from break. I was busy just trying to keep up with life, you guys! But my goal for the year is to make weekly posts. I’ve got a post backdated for last week that’s still kind of spastic, so I may or may not post it…we’ll see. Moving on to week #2…

A friend in a major city in the Northeast sent me a message today asking if I knew the order for dictionary definitions. I thought she was going to enlighten me. She did not. She was asking because she didn’t know.

So, naturally, I went looking.

My initial guess was chronological, but that seemed not-quite-right, given the ever-changing nature of language.

It turns out that most major dictionaries, such as the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster do, in fact, list definitions in chronological order. Which is apparently done for exactly the reason I expected it wouldn’t — to maintain a timeline for the way we use language. Others, like the American Heritage Dictionary use a commonality order, which lists definitions based on usage in language.

For the OED, see here, under Chronology and the Historical Method

For the M-W dictionary, see here, under Order of Senses

For the American Heritage dictionary, see here, under Order of Sense

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