28 Jan 07
A definition is a form of words which states the meaning of a term. The term to be defined is known as the definiendum (Latin: that which is to be defined). The form of words which defines it is known as the definiens (Latin: that which is doing the defining). A definition may either give the meaning that a term bears in general use (a descriptive definition), or that which the speaker intends to impose upon it for the purpose of his or her discourse (a stipulative definition). Stipulative definitions differ from descriptive definitions in that they prescribe a new meaning either to a term already in use or to a new term. A descriptive definition can be shown to be right or wrong by comparison to usage, while a stipulative definition cannot. A stipulative definition, however, may be more or less useful. A persuasive definition, named by C.L. Stevenson, is a form of stipulative definition which purports to describe the 'true' or 'commonly accepted' meaning of a term, while in reality stipulating an altered use, perhaps as an argument for some view, for example that some system of government is democratic. Stevenson also notes that some definitions are 'legal' or 'coercive', whose object is to create or alter rights, duties or crimes.