The Dictionary Game

Word games are a technique for troubleshooting problem statements. They are usually cheaper than unwanted solutions. They expose ways that well-intentioned problem solvers trip over a misunderstood word, a misplaced comma, or ambiguous syntax.1

In the dictionary game, you make a list of a dictionary’s meanings for each word in the original sentence. Then, you try to apply each of those meanings in turn. Consider a little word like had. It’s defined as the past tense and past participle of have, which in turn has tens of definitions. Consider the phrase, “Mary had a little lamb.” The dictionary game asks you to consider options for had (via have) such as:

Consider playing the dictionary game with problem statements involving your data: statements and queries involving names of tables/collections, columns/fields, etc.

The Resource Description Framework (RDF) approach to data modeling leans into the dictionary game. A resource never has a string literal like “title” as a property. Rather, it has a v:title (job title of an employee), a dc:title (title of a creative work) , or some other resource with an unambiguous URI that happens to have a rdfs:label of “title”.


  1. Gause and Weinberg, Are Your Lights On?, pp73-80. Dorset House, 1990. ↩︎