What does "Webster does not a field define" mean?


I have difficulty in understading this sentence, plz clarify it for me.

“Webster does not a field define.”

Many thanks.

Hi Ann

What’s the context?

Are you sure you typed that correctly? Perhaps you did, but its a software translation error…

Seems odd that Webster would use such a Victorian sounding sentence structure. :lol:

Yes, I’m guessing that the intended structure might be comparable to these:

  • One swallow does not a summer make.
  • One vocal opponent does not a trend make.

But without additional context, we can’t really be sure of the meaning of the original sentence.
Webster does not define an entire field. (whatever that means… :?)

Without any context to help explain/justify the word order, it just looks like an error.

A quick and rough sonnet in honor of the question posed, in quasi-Victorian style:

Webster does not a field define
bereft we are of helpful clue
continue now our doubts anew
without a meaning to assign.
With dictionary so benign
we resort to forms of -mancy
though they tend to be so chancy
our last hope value to divine.
so then when faced with word unknown
perhaps another route to take-
for if this word suits not our needs,
delay no longer and bemoan
no more our literary brake.
Instead let’s choose from other breeds.


Thank Yankee & Skrej for your enthusiasm, and I really like the sonnet.

When I read the sentence, I found it difficult to understand, so I think maybe it is an idiom. :smiley:

This is the context, this paragraph is about information science.

"What is information science? The question, while seemingly simple, begs another, more complex one: How is information science, or for that matter any field, to be defined? This is a complex problem dealt with at length in philosophy and in other fields. Lexical definitions are necessary for providing a broad description and oundaries of the subjects covered by a field, but they cannot provide for a deeper understanding. Webster does not a field define. This is not to reject clear lexical definitions—not at all—just to establish their limitations.

Well, I’ll be damned, they really did mean that. :shock:

It’s not an idiom, it’s a reference to some of the poetry we were mentioning. It a round-about way they’re just saying that Webster (here they’re using Webster to represent any and all dictionaries) can’t define the field of information science. They’re suggesting that the field of information science is too vast and complex to simply be summed up in a single dictionary entry.

You’ll notice the word order is different than the normal English SVO, and puts the object between the axillary and main verb. This is sometimes (although fairly rarely) done for special emphasis, although it was for a while a common feature in English poetry, particularly during the Victorian period. It’s sort of outdated nowadays, but once in a great while an author will use it to make a special emphatic point.

Speaks this way Yoda does, also!

Thank Skrej. It’s clear now.