General Question

eupatorium's avatar

Is it okay to quote the dictionary in a paper?

Asked by eupatorium (338points) June 7th, 2009

I have a teacher who tells me no, but what’s the alternative if I want to explicitly define a term?

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21 Answers

loser's avatar

Just change the wording around enough to make it your own words.

westy81585's avatar

I would think so? I mean if you’re like “Websters defines such and such as….” I don’t see why it would be a problem. I don’t think you could use it as like a resource filler (if you have a resource requirement number or something), but I don’t see why you couldn’t quote it.

alive's avatar

if your teacher said its not ok, she is probably telling you that for a specific reason. i would guess that your teacher wants you to be more creative than using a dictionary definition.

dictionaries are not written in essay form. they are really dry reading. essays (if written well) are enjoyable and not dry. you should not use a dictionary definition because it does not ‘fit’ in with essay writing.

(some teachers will allow it, some won’t, but in this case you can do better than a dictionary! good luck!)

Lightlyseared's avatar

If it is the teacher who is going to mark the paper then I’m afraid you have to listen to them whether you like it or not.

Jeruba's avatar

If you are asking whether it’s ok to quote the dictionary in a (any) paper, the answer is yes, of course. You can quote anything (with proper citation) provided that the quotation isn’t so long as to decrease the value of the original work.

There are only so many ways to define a word. Dictionary writers try to avoid knowingly using each other’s language, but even they acknowledge that there’s going to be a lot of similarity if you are getting at the essence of a word.

If the point of your paper is to write an extended definition (a type of essay), you can still start with a dictionary. What follows must be your own, and any quotation must be credited.

BUT it may not be okay to quote the dictionary in this paper. It sounds like that restriction may have something to do with the assignment. Whatever the reason, your first job is to fulfill the requirements of the assignment.

@alive, anything can be dry if you don’t love it. I love dictionaries and greatly admire the lexicographer’s art. So they are not dry to me. Still, I wouldn’t generally recommend them for leisure reading.

Judi's avatar

@Jeruba ; I have even been known to read the phone book for fun, but tehn again, that was before the internet~

Jeruba's avatar

@Judi, me too! That’s how I found Frodo Baggins in the Boston directory, circa 1967.

eupatorium's avatar

Thanks everyone! Actually, she told us that in general, not for any specific paper. After looking over my essay, I realized that I could go in a much more creative direction, as per @alive‘s suggestion. Now that I look at it, I think that’s what the teacher was trying to get at..

Jeruba's avatar

In that case, I would consider her to be mistaken. There is no such rule. Many writings quite appropriately include a quotation from a dictionary, where there is a logical reason for it in the context of the piece and where it can’t be better done another way.

If you can handle this particular situation better without the quotation, that is certainly the way to go.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I knew Jeruba would have the correct answer to this one, that’s why Jeruba is my hero.

wundayatta's avatar

@Jeruba There’s a difference between the legitimacy of quoting a dictionary, which, of course, it perfectly legitimate, and the pedagogical goals of the teacher, who may want the students to create their own definitions, or something like that. Teachers have all kinds of ideas, and often they make little sense to outsiders. Don’t get me started on my daughter’s assignments. She won’t even tell me what they are, any more. My daughter, I mean.

Jeruba's avatar

Yes, @daloon, I agree. That is why I said to follow the teacher’s directions for this assignment—until the questioner replied that the teacher gave this as a general instruction to the class as a rule to follow when writing papers. It is not a general rule to follow when writing papers. Perhaps it is a general rule to follow when writing papers in her class, but that is, as you say, a different matter. The student should not leave her class thinking that he or she must never cite the dictionary in a paper.

alive's avatar

maybe “rule” is too strong of a word, but general guideline, that makes sense. it is generally better to not use the dictionary for essays.

in other words you could, but it does not make for very good essay writing – generally.

wundayatta's avatar

Depends on what you’re writing about. If I were writing an essay about the various words included or not included in various dictionaries, I’d have a hard time doing that without quoting a dictionary, if not several of them.

alive's avatar

if you were writing an essay about the various words included or not included in various dictionaries i would feel sorry for you.

(and if its not included then i guess you wouldn’t really be quoting that dictionary…ok im done being a smart ass)

wundayatta's avatar

If you feel sorry for me, then I feel sorry for you.

eupatorium's avatar

So, to clarify, I AM pretty sure the teacher said it was a general no-no, but it wouldn’t be surprising if she was wrong,or worded it badly, or whatever. After all, she threw a fit in class one day, kicked her shoe off, swearing that ‘we’ and ‘us’ are only second person, and cannot be used in first person writing, and even said, ‘this would be so embarrassing if I was wrong.’ (She was wrong). But, I realize now that whatever she said, quoting the dictionary is over-done, and while it may be appropriate, I run the risk of sounding trite.
thank you, all, for helping me understand

alive's avatar

kicked her shoe off

hahahahahahahahahaha

eupatorium's avatar

—oh yes. Don’t get me started..—

mzdesigns's avatar

its ok by me might not be by your teachers although :)

phatstudent's avatar

the reason is most likely that in an essay (esp. a theme essay) it looks better if you give the definition of what it is for you. defining the term yourself will make you stand out from essays that just gave a dictionary definition, as it takes more work and is more creative.

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