By John Randolph Bennett
Definitions get a bum rap, probably because we all remember the clunkers we’ve seen (and perhaps written ourselves) in high school papers, superfluous definitions arriving with all the grace of a Zamboni machine blundering into the opening moments of a figure-skating competition.
You know the kind of definitions I’m talking about:
“Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is a tragedy. Merriam-Webster (Eleventh Edition) defines tragedy as: ‘1. A disastrous event. 2. A serious drama typically describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (such as destiny) and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that elicits pity or terror.’”
But definitions have their uses, not only in ensuring that the reader and the writer are both working from a common understanding of key terms, but also, in some cases, even aiding the writer with topic discovery and the organization of form.
Let’s dismiss the Zamboni stereotype right away…
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