There are many ways that the word description can be defined. I will start generally then move on to a few of the more specialized meanings. Mr. Webster has already given us the 1913 definition but this word has so much more to it than that. Very basically description is a statement that represents something in words.

According to Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest use of the word description was in 1340. The word comes from the Latin word descriptionem which comes from the stem of describere which OED defines as “write down, transcribe, copy, sketch”. De- means “down” and scribere means “write”.

Although the definition of description meaning “pictorial representation” is rare and obscure I find it fascinating. A picture can be the description, so describing a picture can be, in this sense of the word, describing a description.

What spawned me to do a write-up on this is the definition of description that is used in library science, particularly in Cataloging. In library cataloging, information about a work that can be derived from the work itself is the description. This includes the title, statement of responsibility, edition, publication details, physical description, series and identifying numbers such as the ISBN. Librarians use the rules that are laid out in the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd ed., 2002 revision to compose the bibliographic description of a library item. In a card catalog the description was shown in the paragraph sections of a card. Often when referring to “description” the librarian or novice is actually referring to the section of the record called “physical description” which in MARC records is code 300. it includes the number of pages, the dimensions of the item, if it has accompanying material, the format, and sometimes other physical details that one can determine by actually handling the entire book or other form of material.

I also remember the teacher in my Psychology 101 class stressing description. This is because description is usually the first step in understanding any behavior or mental process. This makes description especially important in a very new area of research and in the early stages of research. Description is one of the primary goals of psychology. To attain it, researchers describe the behavior or mental process of interest as accurately and completely as possible. A description tells what occurred.

Description has special meaning in the legal field as well. In law description is a kind of inventory. It is more particular in ascertaining the exact condition of the property, however, and is without any appraisal. Description is the written account of the state and condition of personal property, titles, papers, etc. Description is less perfect than definition. Description can also be a person, such as description of a legatee.

Learn Descriptive Cataloging by Mary Mortimer
The World Of Psychology, 4th ed. By Samuel E. Wood and Ellen R. Green Wood

De*scrip"tion (?), n. [F. description, L. descriptio. See Describe.]


The act of describing; a delineation by marks or signs.


A sketch or account of anything in words; a portraiture or representation in language; an enumeration of the essential qualities of a thing or species.

Milton has descriptions of morning. D. Webster.


A class to which a certain representation is applicable; kind; sort.

A difference . . . between them and another description of public creditors. A. Hamilton.

The plates were all of the meanest description. Macaulay.

Syn. -- Account; definition; recital; relation; detail; narrative; narration; explanation; delineation; representation; kind; sort. See Definition.


© Webster 1913.

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