How To Format And Cite A Word And Definition

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There are different ways to format and cite a word and definition according to different manuals of style. The main thing to do is be consistent.

What are some general rules for formatting?

It is important to offset the term that is being defined or discussed, usually by italicizing it (underline it if you can’t). This is to prevent any confusion that might occur if the term is one that might be mistaken for a word that is simply functioning as part of the sentence as opposed to being discussed as a word.

If you are using any foreign language terms or phrases in your writing, standard practice dictates they be italicized. Some confusion can result if foreign terms and words under analysis are italicized but are not actually being cited.

Do not capitalize the word unless it is a proper noun or falls at the beginning of a sentence.

The definition should be enclosed in quotation marks.

Some examples:

  • Pendulous can mean “hanging down loosely,” “swinging freely,” or “wavering.”
  • Emilia reminded us that bossy is often considered sexist.
  • Doing good in the world was his raison d’être.

What does the Chicago Manual of Style say?

One leading style guide is the Chicago Manual of Style, commonly referred to as Chicago style. According to its 17th edition (University of Chicago, 2017):

  • When a word or phrase is used as a word (i.e., not used functionally but referred to as the word or term itself), it is either italicized or enclosed in quotation marks.
  • A translation of a foreign word or phrase (in italics) should be enclosed in quotation marks or parentheses.

The main principle is that both the word and its definition need to be set in either a different type (usually italics) or set inside punctuation marks (usually quotations marks or parentheses) so that they can be distinguished from the rest of the text.

How do you cite a definition from Dictionary.com in Chicago style?

If you cite a definition of a word you looked up on Dictionary.com and need to include it in your references, the basic format is as follows, exemplified by the word hangry:

Dictionary.com, s.v., “hangry,” accessed June 17, 2019, https://www.diction-ary.com/hangry.

Note s.v., which stands for
sub verbo
(under the word)The date accessed refers to the date you looked up the term, and the URL included is the link to the entry online.

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