What is stipulative definition?


A stipulative definition is a type of definition in which an existing or specially created description is assigned a new special meaning. Stipulative definitions can be used during the discussion in a specific context or as an argument, and also replace the dictionary meaning or lexical definition of the word for the period of some debate. Therefore, the stipulative definition may, in theory, contradict the vocabulary meaning of the term.


The stipulative definition assigns a meaning to a particular term, a new meaning that is either usually not used at all, or it clarifies and concretizes it. Speaking about the first option, a group of words and terms can be distinguished specially created for a particular context that reflects and convey the meaning of what their creator wanted to say. An example of such a stipulative definition is the piece from the novel Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll. In the text of the book in a strange poem that the main character finds, the phrase “vorpal sword” is found. Although there is no such adjective in the English language, from the context of the poem about a brave hero, it becomes clear that Carroll meant “deadly or sharp” by this word.

The second use of the stipulative definition involves specifying, refining, or giving a new meaning to an existing word. This method can be used in articles of various kinds, for writing which you first need to clearly define the terms used to avoid ambiguities and different interpretations. In addition, the stipulative definition can be used as a concretization of a term and giving it a variation of its meaning. For example, the traditional meaning of the word “love” includes a description of a variety of strong positive emotions and mental states. At the same time, “love” can be defined as a willingness to die for someone, and this will be a stipulative definition. Based on the last example, it should be noted that due to their nature and purpose, the stipulative definitions cannot be right or wrong, true or false. The meaning attached to the words may differ from the dictionary, but this only makes them useful for a particular task.

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