A few minutes ago, I was in need (for coding purposes) of finding a more general term for notions such as city, village, town, etc. Now, whereas I could just try a few options (e.g. locality? municipality?), look up their meanings in the dictionary, and go with one, it got me wondering about the problem in more general.

So are there any systematic ways to look up such words? I haven't noticed anything like this in thesauri (or maybe I just haven't been paying attention).

Is any such database of hierarchies of meanings even known to exist and be freely available?

(as to the tags of this post: feel free to correct those; I'm not at all sure yet how tags work in this stack exchange)

  • I don't know of any, but I agree it would be useful at times. Perhaps we should make one? – emsoff Feb 17 '14 at 20:57
  • {country | province | state | county | city | town | borough | village} = jurisdiction level. Name of {country, province, state, county, city, town, borough, village} = jurisdiction. – Blessed Geek Feb 17 '14 at 21:37
  • Look up one in a thesaurus, then choose the most general. – Marc Feb 18 '14 at 2:34
  • Another vote for a thesaurus. One of the "nice" features of a thesaurus is that they don't specifically lock in on an exact fit for meaning or connotation. Sometimes the words are, in fact, barely related. So, if you're going to find a related word, it would be one of the first places to look. – David M Feb 18 '14 at 3:57

Many thesauri do this for you already. If you notice most words in online thesauri are organized under a parent word or term.

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  • 1
    I agree in general, but I have an issue with this specific example: within 50 miles of where I sit now, there are at least a dozen (whatever)s which are generally called towns, but which are not incorporated. Some of them are part of the City of Los Angeles (so technically they should be "neighborhoods", but often are called "towns"), and some are part of unincorporated Los Angeles County (and I don't even know WHAT those should be called.) So "incorporated community" is good but not perfect. – MT_Head Feb 18 '14 at 3:16
  • Perhaps "community" works better in your specific case? – pavja2 Feb 18 '14 at 3:37
  • Well, yes: that's more or less my point - you can't necessarily assume that the compilers of a particular reference work have covered all the bases. In this case the problem is probably that the word "town" is used too loosely in and around LA - but even so, the "more-general" level of the thesaurus entry probably should be just "community", not "incorporated community". – MT_Head Feb 18 '14 at 4:16
  • How about "locality" or "municipality"? "locality" should really cover everything from official municipal bodies to just any place name—but I'm not a native speaker. – Erik Allik Feb 18 '14 at 13:54

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