17 Rules to Make a Definition that Avoids the 37 Ways of Words Being Wrong

Eliezer’s writing style of A->B, then A, then B, though generally clear, results in a large amount of redundancy.

In this post, I have attempted to reduce the number of rules needed to remember by half. The numbers are the rules from the original post.

So, without further ado, a good definition for a word:

  1. can be shown to be wrong37 and is not the final13 authority18 19

  2. has strong justifications33 for the word’s existence32 and its particular definition,20 which leave no room for an argument17 22

  3. agrees with conventional usage4

  4. explains what context the word depends on36

  5. limits its scope to avoid overlap with other meanings25

  6. does not assume that definitions are the best way of giving words semantics12

  7. directs a complex mental paintbrush35 to paint detailed pictures of the thing you’re trying to think about23

  8. is a brain inference aid13 that refers to and instructs one on how to find a specific/​unique24 similarity cluster21 that is apparent from empirical experience28 29 30, the cluster’s size being inversely proportional to the word’s length31

  9. is not a binary category9 11 and cannot be used for deductive inference27

  10. requires observing only14 a few3 real-world1 properties that can be easily5 verified2 and are less abstract6 than the word being defined (in particular, the definition cannot be circular16)

  11. is not just a list of random properties10 21

  12. contains no negated properties10 33

  13. specifies exhaustively all of the correct connotations of the word25 26

  14. makes the properties of a random object satisfying the definition be nearly independent34

  15. has examples6 which satisfy the definition, including the original example(s) that motivated the definition being given15 and typical/​conventional examples7

  16. tells you which examples are more typical or less typical9

  17. captures enough characteristics of the examples to identify non-members8

And there you go. 17 rules, follow them all and you can’t use words wrongly.