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Definitional Depth Metric

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For each defined word in the dictionary, we should be recording also the definitional depth. Definitional depth is the number of distinct definitions that have to be referenced in order to fully interpret all of the words in a given word's definition, taken right down through all the words used in all the definitions used in each definition & so on and so forth until all words used in each sub-(sub-(sub- (...)))definitions have already been exhaustively defined.

For instance:
"Houseplant. Noun. A plant grown indoors."
requires us to define Noun, A, plant, grown and indoors...

calum, Jun 12 2013

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       I'm pretty sure this ends up being nearly the complete corpus of the respective language for every single word.   

       Words are very rarely defined by a single word, and while the common words would be filled in fairly quickly, the remainder would branch even more quickly. For the record, dictionary.com allows you to click on the words in it's definitions, and going from plant, I got to orchestra in very few clicks.   

       To clarify though, would you be tracking all the sub-definitions of a given word, or just the relevant one? Not that it really matters, but the latter would spread somewhat slower.
MechE, Jun 12 2013

       + this is a great idea. It directly relates to measuring the comprehension of a reader. Ie ok,if person doesnt understand, what one of these words that defines it do you not understand. If a baseline of vocabulary is established for a person, you could easily say you have a 13% of understanding the word NMDA receptor. And possibly forty minutes worth of study to understand it, etc.
leinypoo13, Jun 12 2013

       I have now edited the idea text to deal with the ambiguity highlighted by MechE and to pick up some egregious spelling errors.   

       A trick I hadn't thought of was in ensuring that if a definition word has more than one meaning, the meaning that is appropriate in the context would be followed up/down the definition tree. This is a consequence for implementation: brute force computing will not be sufficient.   

       My thought is that there will, if we run this process for each word in a dictionary, be a rump of words - medical or other specialist words perhaps - which would have a very high DDI but would not feature in the definition of any other words.   

       Equally, it would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between DDI and frequency of use in dictionary definitions (or indeed in a different corpus). Are the words we speak commonly harder to explain than specialist words? How long does it take to get to the end of a "three year old asking 'why?'" approach to definitional clarity?
calum, Jun 12 2013

       About a year.
BunsenHoneydew, Jun 12 2013

       ^ what he said.
po, Jun 13 2013

       I've been thinking (too late) about the uses for the DDI. I suspect it could be used to help the dictionary compilers to create definitions for specialist or technical words which, while perhaps longer, are more readily understood by a reader without the technical knowledge. It could also be used to assist in generating a uniformity of approach to how to craft a definition.
calum, Jun 14 2013

       How does the tree ever end? I see only two possibilities, 1. the word is defined by itself, e.g. Big: big.   

       However dictionaries usually avoid this kind of definition, so the other option is necessarily the case - a loop. So we are measureing the size of the loop? Could be as small as 2
Big: large
Large: big

       When I was wee we had a pushalong plastic train set whose track pieces snapped together with connectors like jigsaw pieces. Each was double-sided. The challenge was always to make a layout the had no pieces left over. Sometimes we managed, but it was hard. There were probably about 100 pieces. Perhaps a dictionary could be made like this, so that starting at one word you can go step by step to every other word in the dictionary?   

       Isnt this already baked on Wikipedia?   

       My father would complain if you had to reverse the train to get onto every section of track in both directions of travel.
pocmloc, Jun 14 2013

       Having thought about it some more, I agree with pocmloc that taking the first selected definition will involve chasing the word tree down and down until you have exhuastively defined the first word will likely involve running through all nearly all of the definitions in the dictionary. I think my mind glided past that point to leap to the second and third and fourth words in a definition, where you won't have to go down as far to reach the bottom.   

       Post-hoc rationalisation: maybe the whole point of this would be to illustrate, as if it needed illustrating, that language as language alone is nothing but self-reference. Without the anchoring experience and knowledge of the reader, a word means nothing more than other words which mean, themselves, nothing.
calum, Jun 17 2013

       //nearly all ... won't have to go down as far to reach the bottom.//   

       That was my point - there is no bottom, it never ends except in recursive self-reference. Unless you could suggest a base definition that itself does not need defined.
pocmloc, Jun 17 2013

       Yes, it is a rather significant flaw, I suppose.
calum, Jun 17 2013

       //Unless you could suggest a base definition that itself does not need defined.//   

       <caveman grunt>
FlyingToaster, Jun 17 2013

       If you do it by set theory, you can get there. You wouldn't necessarily start from here, though.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 17 2013

       To rescue this idea from not working, it could be used in legal documents to reflect how many different definitions you needs to travel through to understand fully a defined term in an agreement. A shallow depth metric should be the target.
calum, Sep 12 2013

       For some words, the best definition is not more words, but the "thing" itself (a picture or model or actual thing), eg: table (a picture paints a thousand words...). Of course, there are a lot of words/concepts that are abstract, which can only be related to, or defined by, other words.
The other thing to consider is not just the "depth" of the definitions, but the "breadth" as well. A word might take 5 words to define it, then 4 for each of those (20), then 5 for each of those (100); exponential growth. And that's not including words with multiple definitions...
neutrinos_shadow, Sep 12 2013


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