Suppose I wanted to write a computer program that replaces a word with its definition. Some dictionaries, such as the Google dictionary, would not work for this task; for example, if one tries to define the word "this" on Google, it says:

used to identify a specific person or thing close at hand or being indicated or experienced.

If I wanted to modify the phrase:

I love this weather!

...by changing the word this to its definition, I would get the inappropriate sentence:

I love used to identify a specific person or thing close at hand or being indicated or experienced weather!

Of course, thesauruses are out there; but I am specifically interested in something that gives a full definition for a word--not just a single synonym.

So is there a more literal-minded dictionary out there--i.e., one where the definition could literally just be swapped in for the word? If not, and a thesaurus is my best bet, why not?

An example of the kind of definition I do like is:

die, (as in singular of dice) noun: a small cube with each side having a different number of spots on it, ranging from one to six, thrown and used in gambling and other games involving chance.

"I rolled the dice." -> "I rolled the small cube[s] with each side having a different number of spots ranging from one to six, thrown and used in gambling and other games involving chance."


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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is more about a simplistic software approach to language, rather than actual English usage. – FumbleFingers Sep 19 '13 at 21:05
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    The problem is not with the dictionary, the problem is with the words you picked. Apples to oranges. How do you define "this" such that the definition can be swapped in for the word? Most words, in any dictionary, actually will be defined such that you can swap in the definition. But you just picked, on purpose, that one evil word that escapes such convenient definition. (By the way, strictly speaking you do not swap in the definition of "die" either. You change the article and the number agreement. You adapt the definition to your needs. So why not adapt the definition of "this", too?) – RegDwigнt Sep 19 '13 at 21:17
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    We are knowledgeable about dictionaries. But we're also knowledgeable about words, and not all words have definitions. Take the word this, which you complain about. What would a definition for that word be like? (Hint: it would depend entirely on who's saying the sentence, and quite possibly on what they're pointing at when they say it). Only lexical words have definitions, and can be looked up automatically; grammatical words like pronouns, auxiliaries, prepositions, articles, quantifiers, and the like have uses, not meanings. – John Lawler Sep 19 '13 at 21:18
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    ...these are function words, almost always handled in a dictionary by a description of how they are used. Definitions (near-synonyms or rewordings) are given for lexical words. However, even these tend to be highly polysemic - think of these commonly used senses of corner: The corner of the football pitch was muddy. The referee decided to give a corner not a throw-in. Schules took the corner. Van Persil headed the corner into the net. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 19 '13 at 21:50
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    Your approach is impractical. First, you need words that only have a single meaning, probably a small minority in English. Further, the definitions are almost always syntactically complex, making it impractical for a simple swap. A thesaurus would be more likely to suit, but does not explain the meaning to someone who is unfamiliar with the term. You really want parentheticals, and you want them automatically; not very likely. – bib Sep 19 '13 at 22:01

Te online Merriam Webster Dictionary seems to have definitions formatted according to your specifications.

Here is their definition for this

pronoun \ˈthis, thəs\
: the person, thing, or idea that is present or near in place, time, or thought or that has just been mentioned
: the thing that is closest to you or that is being shown to you
: the present time

And for dice

: a small cube that is made of plastic, wood, etc., that has one to six dots on each side, and that is used usually in pairs in various games
: a gambling game played with dice
: a small cube

In order to perform the replacement that you describe, you would probably have to limit yourself to the first definition provided, and assume that it is the one you want.

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    I used the plural dice because, for the word die, the definition you are looking for is actually pretty far down the list. The first and most common definition of the word refers to death. – Leatherwing Sep 19 '13 at 22:26

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