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This is one of definitions of the word "cause".

a goal or principle served with dedication

In the definition, what does the word 'serve' mean?

In my understanding, it means 'to do usefel work' but I'm not sure.

  • It's more like the relationship between a servant and his master. – Hot Licks Nov 21 '17 at 3:30
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Definitions are hard to compose well. Basically, a cause is just a goal or principle. For example, if your cause is to protect an endangered species, that is your goal, based on your principles (conservation). The lexicographer probably wanted to convey that a cause is something more than that and decided to add, "served with dedication." "Served with dedication" can be replaced by the phrase, "to which one is dedicated." If we want to isolate "served with," we can say, "to which one has" ... dedication. The word served was likely used because people often say that they "serve a cause." In this case, the person is performing some kind of service in order to advance a cause. When one serves a cause, it is often in the form of volunteer work. "Volunteering" and "serving" are used to convey the same principle in certain contexts. The question of the definition of the word "served" in this context becomes far less interesting when it is clear that it is not the dedication that is serving the cause, but an implied person. Thank you; this was very fun to think about and I'm sorry if I broke it down further than necessary or if most of what I said was already obvious

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The usual collocation is "to serve a cause". See item 2 here, second set of definitions:

  1. to render or be of service to (a person, cause, etc); help

I think whoever wrote the definition you mention had that collocation in mind. Goals are met, fulfilled, achieved or accomplished, while principles are followed. Causes are served.

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