Dictionary Problems

Definition or Information?

For a bird:
Definition: a warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrate distinguished by the possession of feathers, wings, and a beak and (typically) by being able to fly

What part is definition, what part is information?
No modern bird has teeth, but if a toothed bird flew out of some jungle tomorrow, no-one would question whether it was a bird.
Definition: an animal with feathers and forelimbs modified as wings, not a dinosaur
Information: a warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrate with a beak.

We can break it down into flightless birds and flighted birds, and birds of prey, and seabirds...


Bank (river)
Definition: the land alongside or sloping down to a river or lake
Definition: a large natural stream of water flowing in a channel to the sea, a lake, or another such stream

Is this sufficient for a machine to deduce that a river has two banks along its entire length?


bewildering -> confusing or perplexing -> confusing -> bewildering or perplexing -> baffling or puzzling -> puzzling -? causing puzzlement or perplexing

Confusing and puzzling are different animals - we shouldn't be going around in circles.

Touch Points

A child knows what being confused means, long before they know the word. We should be able to describe to a blind machine what feeling confused is like. Do we have two explanations - one for a machine being confused, and one for a human? What are other touch points we can use? - "self" is an obvious one.


“especially” and “typically” are used thousands of times in the definitions.
Definition: fine merino wool especially from Australia
Probability distribution on countries – maybe Spain and Argentina as well, having flocks of merino sheep.

Definition: used to single out one person, thing, or situation over all others
    Example count: 2
     Example 1: he despised them all, especially Sylvester
Does he despise the others less, or is it only partly true that he despises them, and completely despises Sylvester – what property is “especially” operating on?

Not easy.


   Sense 2
    Definition: become lower, weaker, or less

Why can we say
The Roman Empire fell in the Fourth Century
But not
The Roman Empire dropped in the Fourth Century

Is there something missing in the definition?

Do we need to actively exclude the possibility, as
   Sense 3
    Definition: be captured or defeated
   Sense 3
    Definition: not (be captured or defeated)
That is, these are not valid – the “not” is existential.

A Verb as a Noun

A car is the object car, but it is also a noun, without any confusion between the two things. When we talk about syntactic objects, we change them into nouns.
We have a definition

with a verb expressing a mental state

The word “verb” is used as a noun in the definition – we have to convert the object into a noun – let’s call it VerbGrammaticalObject, build the structure of the sentence around it, then make the structure link to “verb”.

It is quite a nice trick, which humans do easily.


Popular Posts