A definition is a statement that explains the meaning of a term (a word, phrase, or other set of symbols). The term to be defined is the definiendum. A term may have many different senses or meanings. For each such specific sense, a definiens is a cluster of words that defines that term with reference to the speaker's immediate intended meaning.
For example, in formal languages like mathematics, a "stipulative" definition guides a specific discussion. A stipulative definition can only be disproved by showing a logical contradiction. But a "descriptive" definition can be shown to be "right" or "wrong" with reference to general usage.
A chief difficulty in the management of definitions is the necessity of using other terms that are already understood or whose definitions are easily obtainable. The use of the term in a simple example may suffice. A dictionary definition typically contains additional details, such an etymology, obsolete meanings, and the language or languages of its origin.
A precising definition extends the descriptive dictionary definition (lexical definition) of a term for a specific purpose by including additional criteria, which narrow the set of things that meet the definition.
C.L. Stevenson has identified persuasive definition as a form of stipulative definition which purports to state the "true" or "commonly accepted" meaning of a term, while in reality stipulating an altered use (perhaps as an argument for some specific belief). Stevenson has also noted that some definitions are "legal" or "coercive" — their object is to create or alter rights, duties, or crimes.
Famous quotes related to definition:
“Its a rare parent who can see his or her child clearly and objectively. At a school board meeting I attended . . . the only definition of a gifted child on which everyone in the audience could agree was mine.”
—Jane Adams (20th century)
“It is very hard to give a just definition of love. The most we can say of it is this: that in the soul, it is a desire to rule; in the spirit, it is a sympathy; and in the body, it is but a hidden and subtle desire to possessafter many mysterieswhat one loves.”
—François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld (16131680)
“Im beginning to think that the proper definition of Man is an animal that writes letters.”
—Lewis Carroll [Charles Lutwidge Dodgson] (18321898)
“Although there is no universal agreement as to a definition of life, its biological manifestations are generally considered to be organization, metabolism, growth, irritability, adaptation, and reproduction.”
—The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition, the first sentence of the article on life (based on wording in the First Edition, 1935)