Would you be kind enough to explain to me the presence of both different definition of an English word in a Dictionary?

The conscription of men of war. (Bp. Burnet. [1913 Webster])

conscription = an enrolling or registering

The proposed reductions would see the Bundeswehr reduced from 250,000 to 180,000, and the practice of German conscription would no longer exist.

conscription = a compulsory enrollment of men for military or naval service; a draft;
(military) compulsory military service

Thanks for your efforts.

What exactly do you mean by this?

I’d say both your quotes are probably about the compulsory enrolment of civilians into military service.

Hi Cerberus,

I agree with you but it doesn’t settle the originated question.

Here is a copy from the mentioned of me Dictionary where are two different entries for the word in question. I think this is a paradox.

Conscription Conscription, n. [L. conscription: cf. F. conscription.] 1. An enrolling or registering. [1913 Webster]
The conscription of men of war. --Bp. Burnet. [1913 Webster]
2. A compulsory enrollment of men for military or naval service; a draft. [1913 Webster

By the by almost all my threads deal with unusual in my humble opinion usages of strange words and phrases. I have the intention to continue my work, mastering of English, in the teeth of some stuck-up English peoples.

Thank you for your inexhaustible kindness.


I do not think those words and phrases were used in unusual ways. They always fitted the definitions you gave rather well, except the one instance of “sneak” out, but then the definition was simply not complete.

Do you know how dictionary entries are made? The dictionary writer searches through all kinds of historical books and documents to find instances of the word in question; he then looks at their contexts and takes notes of how he would put the word in different words in each context. That will give him a long list of possible rewordings/synonyms/translations. He will then look at the list, and try to see whether he can summarize the entire list in one short description, X. If that is not possible, because the list is too diverse, he will have to define the word by several different descriptions, separated by commas: X, Y, Z. If two descriptions are very different, he will put semicolons between them. If he feels there is a very deep split between descriptions, he might even number them:

  1. X, Y; Z, A
  2. B; C, D, E, F
    If he saw an even sharper division, he could add Roman numerals:
    I. 1. B, Z
    2. A
    II. 3. C; D, F, Y

And if a word has two different meanings that have completely different origins, he would make them separate entries in the dictionary.

As you can see, it is all a matter of degree. A definition in a dictionary is not a “fact”, not a set of exact parameters: it is rather a vague pool of ways in which a word can be used, which the dictionary writer has tried to put some order into. So you should not focus too closely on the details of definitions.

Conscription comes from Latin conscribere, to write together, to write up; it has been used to write up lists of participants in an activity; then it came to be used mainly for compulsively joining the army, which is the first thing that would come to mind for any present-day reader. So a present-day reader would think it referred to that even in your first quote - but if context points him in another direction, this reader will say “oh, well, I see it is used to refer to a non-compulsory or non-military subscription here” and that’s all there is to it.

Note that the Oxford English Dictionary, the most respected one in the world, gives only a single definition that it does not call obsolete:

“a. The compulsory enlistment of men for military (or naval) service; esp. where the liability to serve is legally established; an application of this method of obtaining recruits.
The word was introduced in connexion with a law of the French Republic, 5 Sept. 1798, which provided that the recruits required for service should be compulsorily obtained from the young men between the ages of twenty and twenty-five, whom it declared to be legally liable to serve in the army. Hence it has become a general term for methods of compulsory enlistment; but, technically, as distinguished from universal military service, it implies the enrolment by lot of a fixed number of those liable to service, with the option given of procuring a substitute.
b. The body of conscripts collectively.”

As for why some people are not too happy about the kind of questions you ask, what do you think is the cause of that? They are all bad and you are blameless? Consider the question I asked you earlier in this thread. Did you answer it? Do you think your answer satisfied me? Oh, well.

Hi Ivo,

Perhaps you place too much reliance on dictionary explanations/descriptions. Perhaps you are asking too much from a dictionary. It is interesting that this topic has come up precisely when the O E D (Oxford English Dictionary) has added an extra facility to what people can find on the Internet version. Subscribers to this dictionary online can now search for words by sources and also by the date they first appeared in print. It is perhaps worth remembering that the OED is based on ‘historical principles’ as devised by its first editor (Murray) who spent his life collating and collecting examples of how words were used and had been used from thousands of people who sent him examples of what they had seen and heard. … 96EFFDF6B7


Hi Cerberus and Alan,

Thank you for your exceptional kindness and anxiety for my modest personality.