Get Our Free Apps
Voice Search, Favorites,
Word of the Day, and More
Join Us on FB & Twitter
Get the Word of the Day and More



Division of Senses

A boldface colon is used in this dictionary to introduce a definition:

1coo·per . . . noun : one that makes or repairs wood casks or tubs

It is also used to separate two or more definitions of a single sense:

un·cage . . . transitive verb : to release from or as if from a cage : free from restraint

Boldface Arabic numerals separate the senses of a word that has more than one sense:

1gloom . . . verb . . . 1 : to look, feel, or act sullen or despondent 2 : to be or become overcast 3 : to loom up dimly

Boldface lowercase letters separate the subsenses of a word:

1grand . . . adjective . . . 5 a : LAVISH, SUMPTUOUS . . .b : marked by a regal form and dignity c : fine or imposing in appearance or impression d : LOFTY, SUBLIME

Lightface numerals in parentheses indicate a further division of subsenses:

take out transitive verb 1 a (1) : DEDUCT, SEPARATE (2) : EXCLUDE, OMIT (3) : WITHDRAW, WITHHOLD

A lightface colon following a definition and immediately preceding two or more subsenses indicates that the subsenses are subsumed by the preceding definition:

2crunch noun . . . 3 : a tight or critical situation: as a : a critical point in the buildup of pressure between opposing elements . . . b : a severe economic squeeze . . . c : SHORTAGE
se·quoia . . . noun . . . : either of two huge coniferous California trees of the bald cypress family that may reach a height of over 300 feet (90 meters): a : GIANT SEQUOIA b : REDWOOD 3a

The word as may or may not follow the lightface colon. Its presence (as at 2 crunch) indicates that the following subsenses are typical or significant examples. Its absence (as at sequoia) indicates that the subsenses which follow are exhaustive.

The system of separating the various senses of a word by numerals and letters is a lexical convenience. It reflects something of their semantic relationship, but it does not evaluate senses or set up a hierarchy of importance among them.

Sometimes a particular semantic relationship between senses is suggested by the use of one of four italic sense dividers: especially, specifically, also, or broadly.

The sense divider especially is used to introduce the most common meaning subsumed in the more general preceding definition:

2slick . . . adjective 3 a : characterized by subtlety or nimble wit : CLEVER; especially : WILY

The sense divider specifically is used to introduce a common but highly restricted meaning subsumed in the more general preceding definition:

pon·tiff . . . noun . . . 2 : BISHOP; specifically, often capitalized : POPE 1

The sense divider also is used to introduce a meaning that is closely related to but may be considered less important than the preceding sense:

chi·na . . . noun . . . 1 : PORCELAIN; also : vitreous porcelain wares (as dishes, vases, or ornaments) for domestic use

The sense divider broadly is used to introduce an extended or wider meaning of the preceding definition:

flot·sam . . . noun . . . 1 : floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo; broadly : floating debris

Order of Senses

The order of senses within an entry is historical: the sense known to have been first used in English is entered first. This is not to be taken to mean, however, that each sense of a multisense word developed from the immediately preceding sense. It is altogether possible that sense 1 of a word has given rise to sense 2 and sense 2 to sense 3, but frequently sense 2 and sense 3 may have arisen independently of one another from sense 1.

When a numbered sense is further subdivided into lettered subsenses, the inclusion of particular subsenses within a sense is based upon their semantic relationship to one another, but their order is likewise historical: subsense 1a is earlier than 1b, 1b is earlier than 1c, and so forth. Divisions of subsenses indicated by lightface numerals in parentheses are also in historical order with respect to one another. Subsenses may be out of historical order, however, with respect to the broader numbered senses:

1job . . . noun . . . (circa 1627) 1 a : a piece of work; especially : a small miscellaneous piece of work undertaken on order at a stated rate b : the object or material on which work is being done c : something produced by or as if by work <do a better job next time> d : an example of a usually specified type : ITEM <a 14,000-square-foot job bedrooms — Rick Telander>  2 a : something done for private advantage <suspected the whole incident was a put-up job> b : a criminal enterprise; specifically : ROBBERY c : a damaging or destructive bit of work <did a job on him>  3 a (1) : something that has to be done : TASK (2) : an undertaking requiring unusual exertion <it was a real job to talk over that noise> b : a specific duty, role, or function c : a regular remunerative position d chiefly British : state of affairs — usually used with bad or good <it was a good job you didn't hit the old man — E. L. Thomas> 4 : plastic surgery for cosmetic purposes

At job the date indicates that the earliest unit of meaning, sense 1a, was born in the seventeenth century, and it is readily apparent how the following subsenses are linked to it and to each other by the idea of work. Even subsense 1d is so linked, because while it does not apply exclusively to manufactured items, it often does so, as the illustrative quotation suggests. Yet 1d did not exist before the 1920s, while 2a and 3a (1) both belong to the seventeenth century, although they are later than 1a. Even subsense 3d is earlier than 1d, as it is found in the works of Dickens.

Historical order also determines whether transitive or intransitive senses are given first at verbs which have both kinds. If the earliest sense is transitive, all the transitive senses precede all the intransitive senses.

Omission of a Sense

Occasionally the dictionary user, having looked up an entry, may not find a particular sense that was expected or hoped for. This usually means no more than that the editors judged the sense insufficiently common or otherwise important to include in a dictionary of this scope. Such a sense will frequently be found at the appropriate entry in a dictionary (as Webster's Third New International Dictionary) that has room for less common words and meanings. One special case is worth noting, however.

At times it would be possible to include the definition of a meaning at more than one entry (as at a simple verb and a verb-adverb collocation or at a verb and an adjective derived from a participle of that verb). To save space for other information such double coverage is avoided, and the meaning is generally defined only at the base form. For the derivative term the meaning is then considered to be essentially self-explanatory and is not defined. For example cast off has a sense "to get rid of" in such typical contexts as "cast off all restraint," and so has the simple verb cast in contexts like "cast all restraint to the winds." This meaning is defined as sense 1e(2) of cast and is omitted from the entry cast off, where the dictionary user will find a number of senses that cannot be considered self-explanatory in relation to the entries for cast and off. Likewise, the entry for the adjective picked gives only one sense – "choice, prime" – which is not the meaning of picked in such a context as "the picked fruit lay stacked in boxes awaiting shipment." A definition suitable for this use is not given at picked because one is given at the first homograph pick, the verb from which the adjective picked is derived, as sense 3a – "to gather by plucking."

Information at Individual Senses

Information coming between the entry word and the first definition of a multisense word applies to all senses and subsenses. Information applicable only to some senses or subsenses is given between the appropriate boldface numeral or letter and the symbolic colon. A variety of kinds of information is offered in this way:

2palm noun . . .3 [Latin palmus, from palma]
2rally noun . . .4 also ral·lye
1disk or disc . . .noun . . .4 . . . a usually disc
cru·ci·fix·ion . . . noun . . . 1 a capitalized
1tile . . . noun . . . 1 plural tiles or tile a . . .
del·i·ca·tes·sen . . . noun plural . . .1 . . . 2 singular, plural delicatessens
fix·ing . . . noun . . . 2 plural
2die . . . noun, plural dice . . . or dies . . . 1 plural dice . . . 2 plural dies . . . 3 plural dies
1folk . . . noun, plural folk or folks . . . 5 folks plural

At palm the subetymology indicates that the third sense, while ultimately derived from the same source (Latin palma) as the other senses of the word, has a different immediate etymon (Latin palmus), from which it receives its meaning. At rally one is told that in the fourth sense the word has a variant spelling not used for other senses and that this variant is a secondary or less common one. At disk the italic label of sense 4a indicates that, while the spelling disk is overall somewhat the more common (since it precedes disc out of alphabetical order at the beginning of the entry), disc is the usual spelling for this particular sense. At crucifixion the label cap points out the one meaning of the word in which it is capitalized. At the first homograph tile no plural is shown at the beginning of the entry because the usual plural, tiles, is regular. The subsenses of sense 1, however, have a zero plural as well as the usual one, and so both plurals appear in boldface at sense 1. At delicatessen the situation is different: the entry as a whole is labeled a plural noun, but sense 2 is used as a singular.

In this sense delicatessen can take the plural ending -s when needed, a fact that is indicated by the appearance of the plural in boldface at the sense. At fixing the italic abbreviation simply means that when used in this sense the word is always written in its plural form, fixings. At the second homograph die the actual distribution of the variant plurals can be given sense by sense in italic type because both variants are shown in boldface earlier in the entry. At the first homograph folk a singular noun is shown with variant plurals of nearly equal frequency, when all senses are taken into account. The fifth sense, however, is unique in being always plural in form and construction. The form of the plural for this sense is folks, as shown, and the placement of the form before the label instead of after it (as at the senses of die) means that this sense is always plural.

When an italicized label or guide phrase follows a boldface numeral, the label or phrase applies only to that specific numbered sense and its subsenses. It does not apply to any other boldface numbered senses:

1boot . . . noun . . . 1 archaic . . . 2 chiefly dialect . . . 3 obsolete
1fa·vor . . . . . . noun . . . 2 archaic a . . . b (1) . . . (2) . . . 3

At boot the archaic label applies only to sense 1, the chiefly dial label only to sense 2, and the obsolete label only to sense 3. At favor the archaic label applies to all the subsenses of sense 2 but not to sense 3.

When an italicized label or guide phrase follows a boldface letter, the label or phrase applies only to that specific lettered sense and its subsenses. It does not apply to any other boldface lettered senses:

2stour noun . . . 1 a archaic . . . b dialect British

The archaic label applies to sense 1a but not to sense 1b. The dial Brit label applies to sense 1b but not to sense 1a.

When an italicized label or guide phrase follows a parenthesized numeral, the label or phrase applies only to that specific numbered sense:

in·car·na·tion . . . noun . . . 1 a (1) . . . (2) capitalized

The capitalized label applies to sense 1a(2) and to no other subsenses of the word.

Expansions of Abbreviations

Entries for abbreviations lack definitions. Instead such an entry is given an expansion, which is simply the full word or phrase from which the abbreviation was originally created. Because an expansion is not a definition, it is not introduced by a boldface colon. When more than one expansion is given for an abbreviation, the expansions are listed in alphabetical order and are separated by boldface numerals, except that closely related expansions are grouped together:

cir abbreviation 1 circle; circular 2 circuit 3 circumference

For an abbreviation that originated in another language, the foreign expansion is given in an etymology, followed by an idiomatic English equivalent. When such an expansion is listed along with other expansions in a single entry, alphabetical order within the entry is based on the foreign expansion rather than its English equivalent.

pp abbreviation 1 pages 2 per person 3 [Latin per procurationem] by proxy 4 pianissimo