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Defining Definitions


At TExT we strive to do quality work, so creating lexicons requires attention to linguistics. This page seeks to answer briefly the following questions:

  • What goes into a definition of a word in a lexicon?
  • How do the various parts relate to each other?
  • How do the various parts relate to the texts we are trying to understand?

The following draws on Gene L. Green, “Lexical Pragmatics and Biblical Interpretation,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50, no. 4 (2007), 799-812.

Concepts and Words

This page does not deal with every part of a lexicon entry. Some parts are fairly straightforward (such as frequency or part of speech), so we assume you can work those out. This page seeks to clarify those parts which may be easily confused in practice.

Green, using Relevance Theory, distinguishes between the logical, encyclopedic, and lexical entries of a concept.

  • The logical entry is the irreducible components of the concept. This is relatively consistent across cultures and time but does not constitute a full definition of the concept. For example, the logical entry of MOTHER may be FEMALE PARENT.
  • The encyclopedic entry includes more important detail, but that detail may change over time and include culturally specific associations. The encyclopedic entry may include, for example, the notion that mothers are nurturing. That assumption may be cultural and may change over time, but it is certainly not essential to the concept because one need not be nurturing to be called a mother.
  • The lexical entry is the linguistic sign which calls the concept to mind. Here are some examples:
    • English: mother
    • Greek: μήτηρ
    • Hebrew: אֵם

Structure of a Lexicon Entry

Here is a screenshot of the entry for אֵם in the Hebrew/Aramaic lexicon:

[[Image:WeSay-'em.png|center|Entry in WeSay]]


There are a number of elements to the entry.

  • Word: At the top is the lexical form of a word, which, in relevance theory, is the lexical entry. This is pre-determined to a degree by the digital sources we are working from (which vary depending on the lexicon).
  • The Strong's number, here Strongs Hebrew, or another number keyed to a print concordance (such as TWOT or G-K), and a Transliteration all help various users identify the lexical entry.
  • Frequency in WLC: This is the number of times the word appears in a particular corpus, in this case the Westminster Leningrad Codex.
  • Morphology indicates various alternate forms from the lexical form and aides the user in parsing.

At this point we do not have a place for the logical entry. However, as you think about a word, try to work out the logical entry (the irreducible components to the concept the word represents) and list the definitions/glosses in such a way that glosses most closely resembling the logical entry come first and ad hoc or metaphorical glosses appear later.


A word may have different senses. Each sense contains the following elements.

  • Meaning #: This is the word(s) or phrase(s) used to translate the lexeme into English (or some other language). Technically this is a gloss, and it is customary in lexicons of Greek and Hebrew to begin each new sense with a gloss in bold to aide in translation, so that is what we do. How do you know you need a new sense? Ask yourself if the glosses you would use for a word are synonyms. If they are not, start a new sense.
  • Encyclopedic Info is the encyclopedic entry from relevance theory. It is any information which is extraneous to the logical entry and isn't included in a gloss but is nonetheless helpful in clarifying the concept as it is in the language the lexicon is describing.
  • Scripture Example is a field to add references to examples of this word in use in the Bible. Use the abbreviations for biblical book names on TExT Editorial Guidelines and separate individual references with a comma.

A complete entry will have a Meaning and a Scripture Example and Encyclopedic Info if that is necessary."

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