Defining by Synonyms

A synonymous definition is simply explaining something in different words, usually simpler words. Synonyms are useful when you must use a term readers cannot reasonably be expected to know:

Huge "pungs" (ox-or horse-drawn sledges), the connecting links between ocean commerce and New England farms, are drawn up in Dock Square three deep. ... Samuel Eliot Morison

The questions Mr. Murrow brought up will rise to plague us again because the answers given are not, as lawyers say, "responsive"— they are not the permanent right answers, although they will do for the day. Gilbert Seldes

Synonyms are also helpful if you must use an everyday word in a special sense (what earlier we called a "stipulative definition"):

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. use the word "love" here not merely in the personal sense but a state of being, or a state of not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.

James Baldwin

There is no sure guide to when you need to define a word. Certainly a is called for when you use a technical term in a passage intended for nontechnical readers. Lawyers do not have to be told the legal sense of responsive, but the rest of us do. And a definition is needed when you use a common word in a special or personal sense, as Baldwin does with love. On the other hand, you waste time and insult readers by defining commonplace words used conventionally.

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Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

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