Even professional lexicographers have trouble agreeing on the definitions of certain words in the dictionary. But interestingly enough, the most challenging words to define aren’t the ten-syllable mouthfuls like “antidisestablishmentarianism,” but instead are the seemingly simplest words we use.
The challenge for lexicographers, Stamper explains, is to provide a concise, clear definition for the average dictionary user while making sure the definition comprises the many uses of a word. For example: Is “do” used the same way when someone suggests you “do dinner” and when you “do your homework”? That’s for the editorial staff at dictionaries like Merriam-Webster to nail down.