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WORD A fundamental term in both the general and technical discussion of language. The following selection of primary definitions of word is drawn from two American and two British works:(1) Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1984): ‘a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use’.(2) American Heritage Dictionary (1985): ‘a sound or a combination of sounds, or its representation in writing or printing, that symbolizes and communicates a meaning and may consist of a single morpheme or of a combination of morphemes’.(3) Collins English Dictionary (1986): ‘one of the units of speech or writing that native speakers of a language usually regard as the smallest isolable meaningful element of the language, although linguists would analyse these further into morphemes’.(4) Chambers English Dictionary (1988): ‘a unit of spoken language: a written sign representing such an utterance’.

Literacy and the word

In ancient Greece, word study was an inseparable part of the study of texts, which had been prompted by the invention of script. Prior to that, NAME was a more clearly delineated concept than word, which was rather imprecisely associated with speech (apparently the meaning of *wer, the Indo-European root underlying Latin verbum, Sanskrit vrátam, and English word). In oral communities, there appears generally to be no great interest in separating out ‘units’ of language, a lack of delimitation carried over into the early stages of alphabetic writing, in which letters followed each other in lines without spaces to separate off what are now perceived as ‘words’. Spaces between groups of letters became important as the conventions of writing evolved. In alphabetic systems, spaces are now universal and as a result literate people learn to recognize ‘words’ as visual rather than auditory units.

Children learn about words while learning to write, become more or less comfortable with ‘the written word’, and may later assume that words as they are written automatically have a place as theoretical units of both speech and script. Grammarians, philologists, and linguists, all the legatees of the Greeks, have tended to focus on words as visual entities even when analysing sound, for which phoneticians developed a special alphabet. The place of the word as an ultimate unit of language has not, however, been easy to find, with the result that many 20c linguists have found it necessary to look elsewhere for key units of language: ‘below’ the word among phonemes and MORPHEMES or ‘above’ it in sentence and discourse.

The word in different languages

The nature of words varies from language to language: amaverunt is one word in Latin, but cannot be translated into one word of English (in which it means either they loved or they have loved). It is a verb with a root am-, a THEMATIC VOWEL -a-, a marker of the perfect tense -v-, and a complex inflectional ending -erunt. The English verbs that translate it have different tenses (simple past they loved, present perfect they have loved) and bear not the slightest resemblance to the structure of their Latin equivalent. Different from both English and Latin, Swahili has a primary verb form such as kuta (meet). The forms kutana (‘meet each other’) and kutanisha (‘cause to meet each other’) may be conceived as either variations of kuta or as distinct words. In effect, the conception ‘word’ is determined afresh within the system of every language, and as a result the word-as-element-of-speech is language-specific, not language-universal. The various kinds of language have their own broadly similar words, but even so there is variation from language to language inside a category: for example, among Romance languages between French and Spanish.

Nine kinds of word

Despite such complications, however, certain features are more or less true for many if not all languages. Nine such features are fundamental to English and each has its own ‘word’.

The orthographic word.

The word understood in terms of alphabetic or syllabic writing systems: a visual sign with space around it. It may or may not have a canonical form: in the 14c, before print encouraged standardization, merry was also spelled myry, myrie, murie, and mery. On occasion, the orthographic word has canonical forms for different varieties within English: BrE colour and AmE color (‘the same word’ in two visual forms).

The phonological word.

The word understood in terms of sound: a spoken signal that occurs more commonly as part of a longer utterance than in isolation and is subject to rhythm. Traditional spoken English is a series of stressed and unstressed syllables which behave in more or less predictable ways: where an experienced listener hears It's no good at all being pronounced in a relaxed, informal way, a foreigner may hear Snow good a tall. In the flow of speech, words do not have such distinct shapes as on paper, and syllable boundaries do not necessarily reflect grammatical boundaries: the phrases a notion and an ocean are usually homophonic and only context establishes which has in fact been said.

The morphological word.

The word in terms of form lies behind both the orthographic and the phonological word: big has a spelt-out realization b-i-g and a spoken realization /big/, but is independent of both, because it can be expressed in either medium and also in sign language. This entity is capable of realization in different ‘substances’; it is distinct from such spelt-out variants as colour and color as well as from the innumerable ways in which African, American, Australian, Caribbean, English, Irish, Scottish or other people may say ‘colo(u)r’. However, all such users have it in common and it is the basis of such further forms as colourful and discoloured.

The lexical word

(also called a full word, content word, lexeme, lexical item). The word in terms of content relates to things, actions, and states in the world. It is usually realized by one or more morphological words, as when do, does, doing, did, done are taken to be five ‘versions’ of the one verb DO. Lexical words are generally fitted into the flow of language through such mechanisms as affixation, suppletion, stress shift, and vowel change, all of which have morphological and other effects. The set of such words is always open to new members, and in English embraces nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and other parts of speech when they behave like nouns, verbs, and adjectives, as in ‘But me no buts’. Lexical words may be simple in structure (cat, mouse), or composite (cold-bloodedness, incomprehensible, teapot, blackbird, Commonwealth, stamp collector, put up with, natural selection, Parkinson's disease).

The grammatical word

(also called a form word, function word, structure word, and in some theories a subvariety of morpheme). The word in terms of syntactic function contrasts with the lexical word and is an element in the structural system of a language. It serves to link lexical words. In English, conjunctions, determiners, interjections, particles, and pronouns are grammatical words. They occur frequently and have their own semantic systems, as with such particles as up and down, which relate to position, direction, space, and time. In principle, such words are a closed set to which new items are seldom added. As lubricants, grammatical words are like affixes: the out in throw out is like the prefix e-in eject; the before in before the war means the same as pre-in pre-war. They can also function like affixes, as in he-man and yes-man.

The onomastic word.

The word in terms of naming establishes special, often unique reference: the difference between Napoleon and emperor. It may be simple like Smith or complex like Smithsonian. Names may be motivated, like Sitting Bull (a Sioux name derived from an omen involving a bull buffalo) or conventional, like Smith today (though not in the Middle Ages, when the name was occupation-based). Although such words are lexical, they are not usually listed in dictionaries and may or may not be relevant in encyclopedias. They are often regarded as apart from normal vocabulary, though they too have to be learned.

The lexicographical word.

The word in terms of dictionaries is usually presented in an alphabetic setting. Many dictionaries have an entry did as the past of do, an entry them as the object form of they, and so on, with cross-references to the representative form. There are therefore two kinds of entry: anything the compilers think anyone might look up, and the citation forms under which definition proceeds. The conventional citation form for nouns is the singular (unless a word is always plural) and for the verb is the bare infinitive (unless the verb only occurs as a participle, or is a modal verb).

The statistical word.

The word in terms of occurrences in texts is embodied in such instructions as ‘Count all the words on the page’: that is, count each letter or group of letters preceded and followed by a white space. This instruction may or may not include numbers, codes, names, and ABBREVIATIONS, all of which are not necessarily part of the everyday conception of ‘word’. Whatever routine is followed, the counter deals in tokens or instances and as the count is being made the emerging list turns tokens into types: for example, there could be 42 tokens of the type the on a page, and 4 tokens of the type dog. Both the tokens and the types, however, are unreflectingly spoken of as words.

The translinguistic word.

The word in terms of several distinct languages in which versions of the same form exist: for example, realitas in Latin, réalité in French, realidad in Spanish, and reality in English. In one sense, these are not the same: they are all words in separate languages. In another sense, however, and one which is well understood by teachers and travellers, they are all ‘the same word’; that is, a high degree of textual continuity survives across linguistic divides. It is a feature of such words, however, that no single omni-representative form can be cited for any such word: all the embodiments are linguistically equal and, in their various ways, subtly or significantly different.

Other ‘words’

In addition, there is a large number of more or less common expressions, some technical, some semi-technical, some general and casual, all specifying kinds of words and word-like units. They fall into overlapping groups that include: (1) Terms in which word appears, such as: BASE WORD, BUZZ WORD, COMPOUND WORD, LONG WORD, ROOT-WORD. (2) Terms based on the suffix -ISM, such as: AMERICANISM, AUSTRALIANISM, BURGESSISM, MALAPROPISM. (3) Terms based on the combining form -ONYM, such as: ANTONYM, aptronym, characternym, EPONYM, HYPONYM, SYNONYM. (4) Terms that relate to form more than meaning, such as: abbreviation, ACRONYM, COMPLEX WORD, compound word, INITIALISM, portmanteau word. (5) Terms that relate to meaning more than form, such as: ANTONYM, burgessism, eponym, HARD WORD. (6) Terms that relate to social usage, such as: ANAGRAM, buzz word, CONFUSIBLE, LOANWORD, MALAPROPISM, NONCE WORD, PALINDROME, STUNT WORD, VOGUE word. All such terms fit in various ways and at various levels into the model of the word presented above.

Words as clusters

Because of its many dimensions, the concept ‘word’ is more like a cluster than an atom. On the level of theory, the cluster contains the kinds of words discussed above. On the level of practical activity, people ‘know a word’ not simply when they can use and understand a single item but when they know a range of variation and practices associated with it: for example, to know the word know entails knowing how to say, hear, read, and write its various forms and extensions, fitting them into phrases and sentences (knows, knowing, knew, known), relating the simple to the complex (as in knowledge, knowledgeable, unknowing, unknowable, unknowably, unknown), relating these to such compounds as knowhow and know-all, managing idioms (y'know, in the know, know the ropes, know what's what, know a thing or two), using and grasping senses, expressions, and collocations (knowing someone or something, knowing how to do something, knowing better, and even knowing ‘in the Biblical sense’). This cluster, with its clear centre and hazy periphery, shares semantic space with other clusters cited as the words understand, perceive, grasp, and fathom. All operate within a system whose size and complexity defy comprehensive description, but without being beyond the reach of the everyday user of the language.

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word / wərd/ • n. a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed. ∎  a single distinct conceptual unit of language, comprising inflected and variant forms. ∎  (usu. words) something that someone says or writes; a remark or piece of information: his grandfather's words had been meant kindly a word of warning. ∎  speech as distinct from action: he conforms in word and deed to the values of a society that he rejects. ∎  (a word) even the smallest amount of something spoken or written: don't believe a word of it. ∎  (one's word) a person's account of the truth, esp. when it differs from that of another person: in court it would have been his word against mine. ∎  (one's word) a promise or assurance: everything will be taken care of—you have my word. ∎  (words) the text or spoken part of a play, opera, or other performed piece; a script: he had to learn his words. ∎  (words) angry talk: her father would have had words with her about that. ∎  a message; news: I was afraid to leave Washington in case there was word from the office. ∎  a command, password, or motto: someone gave me the word to start playing. ∎  a basic unit of data in a computer, typically 16 or 32 bits long. • v. [tr.] choose and use particular words in order to say or write (something): he words his request in a particularly ironic way | [as adj.] (worded) a strongly worded letter of protest. • interj. inf. used to express agreement: “That Jay is one dangerous character.” “Word.” PHRASES: at a word as soon as requested: ready to leave again at a word. be as good as one's word do what one has promised to do. break one's word fail to do what one has promised. have a word speak briefly to someone: I'll just have a word with him. in other words expressed in a different way; that is to say. in so many words in the way mentioned: I haven't told him in so many words, but he'd understand. in a word briefly. keep one's word do what one has promised. a man/woman of his/her word a person who keeps their promises. (on/upon) my word an exclamation of surprise or emphasis: my word, you were here quickly! of few words taciturn: he's a man of few words. put something into words express something in speech or writing: he felt a vague disappointment which he couldn't put into words. put words into someone's mouth falsely or inaccurately report what someone has said. ∎  prompt or encourage someone to say something that they may not otherwise have said. take someone at their word interpret a person's words literally or exactly, esp. by believing them or doing as they suggest. take the words out of someone's mouth say what someone else was about to say. take someone's word (for it) believe what someone says or writes without checking for oneself. too —— for words inf. extremely ——: going around by the road was too tedious for words. waste words 1. talk in vain. 2. talk at length. the Word (of God) 1. the Bible, or a part of it. 2. Jesus Christ (see Logos). word for word in exactly the same or, when translated, exactly equivalent words. word of honor a solemn promise: I'll be good to you always, I give you my word of honor. word of mouth spoken language; informal or unofficial discourse. the word on the street inf. a rumor or piece of information currently being circulated. words fail me used to express one's disbelief or dismay. a word to the wise a hint or brief explanation given, that being all that is required.PHRASAL VERBS: word up [as imper.] inf. listen: word up, my brother, you got me high as a kite.DERIVATIVES: word·age / ˈwərdij/ n. word·less adj. word·less·ly adv. word·less·ness n.

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Most broadly considered, a word is an expression of thought. Even for pre-Christian philosophers, and most emphatically with Christians, the term "word" had three main applications: (1) the external sound that communicates an idea, (2) the internal thought or concept itself, (3) supramundane reason (see word, the).

Heraclitus's all-inclusive fire, the universal reason, is called Λόγος. The Stoics posited a reason-containing-the-germ-of-all-things (λόγος σπερματικός) which was the primal fire, the origin of all processes of condensation and rarefaction. The logos of Philo is both an aggregate of ideas in the Divine Mind and an all-pervading world soul [cf. F. C. Copleston, History of Philosophy (Westminster, Md. 19461975) 1:43, 389, 459]. Christian philosophers were always keenly aware that the logos of the prologue to St. John's Gospel was the Second Person of the Trinity.

From aristotle we have a succinct statement regarding the relation between exterior and interior words: "Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words" (Interp. 16a 3). St. thomas aquinas further observes that since the exterior word is better known to us because of its sensibility, it is called a word "according to the imposition of the name." However, the interior word is prior in nature, because it is the "efficient and final cause of the exterior word" (De vet. 4.1).

With regard to the interior word or concept there is a slight but typical difference between St. augustine and St. Thomas. St. Augustine's psychology can no more be cut off from its theological roots than his theology can be cut off from its psychological roots. Augustine starts from the premise that man is an image of God; God is triune and consubstantial, hence man must be in some way a reflection of that trinity and consubstantiality. Therefore he holds that when the mind, prompted by desire, conceives a word in knowledge, love embraces this mental offspring and unites it to its begetter. The word, for Augustine, is not only knowledge but knowledge which is linked inseparably with love (verbum est igitur cum amore notitia ). Thus he can see in man an image of the Trinity [Trin. 9.1012; Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 2217 v. indexes 4 v. (Paris 187890) 42:969970].

Aquinas's psychology is less intertwined with his theology. He holds that just as we convey our thoughts of objects to others by exterior words, so we express knowledge to ourselves by means of interior words or concepts (De pot. 9.5). The exterior word is an instrumental and conventional sign of the interior word. The interior word is not an instrumental but a formal sign of the object known. As such, it is not itself known as an object but fulfills a purely mediatorial role. It leads directly and immediately to a knowledge of what it signifies.

See Also: term (logic).

Bibliography: j. maritain, Distinguish to Unite or the Degrees of Knowledge, tr. g. b. phelan from 4th French ed. (New York 1959). e. h. gilson, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine, tr. l. e. m. lynch (New York 1960). b. j. f. lonergan, "The Concept of Verbum in the Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas," Theological Studies 7 (1946) 349392; 8 (1947) 3579, 404444; 10 (1949) 340, 359393.

[j. f. peifer]

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WORD , in the Bible, primarily renders the Hebrew davar, but also omer (pl. amarim), imrah, and peh (lit. "mouth"). "The word of the Lord," an oft–recurring scriptural phrase, signifies a divine communication to man that reveals God's character or His will, as in Isaiah 50:4ff. This revelation can assume many forms, such as oracles (e.g., Judg. 20:18ff.), visions (e.g., Amos 7:1ff.), and dreams (e.g., Gen. 15:12ff.), as well as prophecy and religious teaching in general, including the divinely given laws. In the broadest sense, the Scriptures taken as a whole, and subsequently the totality of Jewish spiritual teaching, fall within the connotation of God's word. In certain biblical passages, the divine word is personified, e.g., "So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, except it accomplish that which I please, and make the thing whereto I sent it prosper" (Isa. 55:11; cf. also Ps. 33:6; 147:15). This biblical feature has antecedents in Sumerian and Babylonian literature, where the "word" is an agent of the gods' beneficence, but more especially of their wrath. In wisdom literature this process of hypostatization becomes even more marked, only ḥokhmah ("Wisdom") is substituted for the divine word, to which it is closely related ideologically (e.g., Prov. 8:1ff.; 9:1–6; Job 28:12–28). However, throughout the Hebrew Bible the figurative character of the personification is never in doubt.

A further stage in the evolution of the concept of the divine word is reached in apocryphal and rabbinic literature. Here the Word emerges as a distinct entity (cf. Wis. 18:15; Mekh., Be-Shalla#x1E25;, 10; Avot 5:1). Furthermore, there arose a negative attitude toward the attribution to God of any anthropomorphic characteristics or the use of language that appeared to detract from the divine dignity. To avoid anthropomorphisms, the Targum employs the memra ("utterance"). For example, Deuteronomy 1:32 is rendered, "… ye have not believed in the memra of the Lord." Thus the memra connotes the manifestation of God's power in creating the world and in directing history. It acts as His messenger and is generally analogous to the Shekhinah ("Divine Presence") and the Divine Wisdom. New and fateful significance was given to the Word by Philo's doctrine of the Logos (the Greek term means both "word" and "reason"). On the one hand, Philo borrowed some of his ideas from the Stoics (Logos as the active and vivifying principle of the universe), who in turn are indebted to Heraclitus ("the dividing Logos," which creates by the fusion of contrasts); he was also influenced by Plato's "theory of ideas." On the other hand, Philo's Logos is rooted in the biblical idea of the creative word of God, the Targum's memra, the mystical concepts of the merkavah ("divine chariot"), the Shekhinah, the name of God, and the names of the angels. The multi-faceted character of the Logos is reflected in the many metaphorical epithets applied to it by Philo: "divine thought," "the image of God," "the firstborn son," "the archpriest," "the paraclete of humanity." Philo paved the way for later Christian theology. In the prologue to John's Gospel (1:14) this is carried farther, and "the Word made flesh" is identified with Jesus. Philo's Logos is no more than an "archangel of many names," the rational principle in the divine nature, the creative mediator between God – the One who is all-perfect and all-good – and the world of matter, which is inherently evil; but the Johannine Logos is a separate divine entity. At this stage the Word created an impossible gulf between Judaism and its daughter faith.

[Israel Abrahams]

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1. (machine word, computer word) A vector of bits that is treated as a unit by the computer hardware. The number of bits is referred to as the word length or word size. Word lengths of 16 or 32 bits are common in home computers, and word lengths of 64 bits are not uncommon in professional and scientific workstations. The memory of a computer is divided into words (and possibly subdivided into bytes). A word is c instruction or an integer. See also memory hierarchy.

2. (string) In formal language theory, a finite sequence of symbols drawn from some set of symbols Σ. This is then a word over the alphabet Σ or a Σ-word. The elements of Σ are also called letters. Common notation includes:


the length of the word w,


the ith symbol in w,

Λ, the empty word

the unique word

of length 0,

Σ* – the set of all Σ-words.

Σ* is infinite unless Σ is empty, in which case

Σ* = {Λ}
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word something said, an account of the truth. From the mid 16th century, the Word or the Word of God has been a term used for the Bible, as embodying divine revelation, often with allusion to John 1:1.
the word on the street a rumour or piece of information currently being circulated.
a word to the wise is enough proverbial saying, early 16th century, meaning that only a very brief warning is necessary to an intelligent person; earlier in Latin ‘verbum sat sapienti [a word is sufficient to a wise man].’

See also an Englishman's word is his bond, fine words butter no parsnips, hard words break no bones, one picture is worth ten thousand words, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me at stick, many a true word is spoken in jest, weigh one's words.

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wordabsurd, bird, Byrd, curd, engird, gird, Heard, herd, Kurd, misheard, nerd, overheard, reheard, third, turd, undergird, undeterred, unheard, unstirred, word •blackbird • yardbird • cage bird •jailbird • seabird • ladybird •dickybird • mockingbird • whirlybird •hummingbird • nightbird • songbird •shorebird • bluebird • lovebird •lyrebird • bowerbird • thunderbird •waterbird • weaverbird • Sigurd •swineherd • cowherd • goatherd •potsherd • catchword • password •headword • swear word • keyword •byword • watchword • crossword •foreword • loanword • buzzword •afterword

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word (coll. pl. and sg.) things or something said; report, tidings; divine communication; vocable. OE. word = OS. word (Du. woord), (O)HG. wort, ON. orō, Goth. waurd :- Gmc. *wordam :- IE. *wrdho- *werdh-, which is held to be based on *wer-, repr. by Gr. (F)eréō I shall say, L. verbum word, Skr. vratá- command, law, vow, Lith. var̄das name.
Hence wordy OE. wordiġ; see -Y1.

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Word Trademark A major word-processing system developed over many years by the Microsoft Corporation. There are versions for MS-DOS, Windows, and Macintosh operating environments.

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