A fundamental property of language is that it is slippery and messy and more liquid than solid, a gelatinous mass that changes shape to fit. As Wittgenstein would remind us, "usage has no sharp boundary.” Oftentimes, the only way to determine the meaning of a word is to examine how it is used. This insight is often described as the “meaning is use” doctrine. There are differences between the “meaning is use” doctrine and a dictionary-first theory of meaning. "The dictionary's careful fixing of words to definitions, like butterflies pinned under glass, can suggest that this is how language works. The definitions can seem to ensure and fix the meaning of words, just as the gold standard can back a country's currency.” What Wittgenstein found in the circulation of ordinary language, however, was a free floating currency of meaning. The value of each word arises out of the exchange. The lexicographer abstracts a meaning from that exchange, which is then set within the conventions of the dictionary definition.
- Dictionary definitions are like ';gold standards’ – artificial, theoretical and dogmatic. Actual meaning of words is their free exchange value
- Language is already slippery: given this, accounting for 'meaning in use' will only exasperate the problem. That is why lexicographers 'fix’ meanings
- Meaning is dynamic; definitions are static. The ‘meaning in use' theory helps us understand that definitions of words are called from their meaning in exchange and use and not vice versa
- The meaning of words in dictionaries is clear, fixed and less dangerous and ambiguous than the meaning that arises when words are exchanged between people