RE: Source for the semantic range of ...

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Aug 27 1999 - 08:00:24 EDT

At 7:44 AM -0400 8/27/99, Jim West wrote:
>At 06:38 AM 8/27/99 -0500, you wrote:
>>My Greek prof always told me,
>>"a text with out a context is a pretext."
>Your prof was correct. Semantic domains, etymology, and all those little
>tidbits of trivia are interesting- but not useful in the final analysis
>because words gain meaning only from context. Words dont HAVE meaning, the
>OBTAIN meaning by their contextual usage. To isolate a word and assign it
>meaning is futile. Even dictionaries do not attempt this. Instead, they
>use the word in question in a sentence so that its meaning is obtained by
>its context.

Can't let Jim have the LAST, or at any rate, the ONLY word on this one. I
think you're stating things too much in an EITHER/OR perspective, Jim. I
think that context is extremely important and that etymology is very often
indeed misleading (although what it can tell about how words come to mean
what they come to mean in certain contexts is more valuable than some are
willing to admit), but any really good dictionary (and no dictionary is
perfect, of course) is BASED upon careful study of words WITHIN textual
contexts--and to the extent that it isn't, it's a less valuable reference
work. On occasion I don't find Louw & Nida adequate, but more often than
not I've found that it takes contextual settings of Greek words more
thoroughly into account than many another instrument. And finally, I defy
anyone to try to read Greek or any other foreign language without ever
resorting to a dictionary or learning some vocabulary--i.e. by figuring out
word-meanings from context alone. A matter like this simply can't be
addressed with EITHER/OR responses.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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