Circularity in OED

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Tue Nov 25 14:32:36 UTC 2008

On Tue, Nov 25, 2008 at 08:49:28AM -0500, Shapiro, Fred wrote:
> I'm not an expert in the theory of defining, but I notice
> that one of the definitions of "person" given in OED3 is "A
> role taken by a person."  Isn't this circularity, which is
> supposed to be a no-no in defining?  Am I missing something?

This is using a different sense of _person_, a sense that is
itself defined appropriately in the right place. This isn't
usually a problem; it's not dissimilar from other methods of
referring to different senses, e.g. "_blurg_ 1. 'a tree of the
genus _fjklds lsls_'; 2. 'the fruit of this tree'".

The argument against circularity is generally meant to prevent
you from using a word in such a way that you can't get to the
definition at all, e.g. "_person-ness_ 'the state of being a
person'; _person_ 'one who is characterized by person-ness'".

Jesse Sheidlower

The American Dialect Society -

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