I should start keeping a record of arguments I have with people where, at some point, they look up a word in the dictionary, and on the merit of the definition there, declare themselves the winner and refuse to entertain any further conversation. (Next time it happens, actually, I'll probably refer them to this blog post.) The thrust of the argument is generally:
ME [word] has certain subtexts, connotations or unavoidable connections which are relevant to its use in this conversation.
ME It's hard to prove connotation, but having grown up in the same culture as me, you must have noticed it. I believe you're arguing in bad faith if you insist that connotation doesn't exist.
OTHER looks up the word in the dictionary.
OTHER Look, see? [Word] (n./v./w.e) [The definition, repeated verbatim, usually skipping over the full list to cite only the example most useful to their argument.]
ME The dictionary isn't the final say in word meaning.
OTHER presses his or her fingertips into his or her ears and hums loudly.
OTHER La-la-la! I can't hear you!
I'm not saying dictionaries are useless. They're a valuable resource -- we need some widely accepted touchstone for discussions about the meanings of words.
But that's exactly the point -- dictionaries are a starting point for discussions. There's no sense in which it's acceptable to treat the dictionary definition as the final say in an argument.**
Dictionaries aren't created by the High Council of Words and their Meanings. They're made by people, who look at the way words are already being used, and do their best to capture that in an easy and accessible way. They do it in very small print, and in a very short space, because they're creating a general reference, not writing essays on each word's meaning.
Dictionaries change over time, and even words that haven't changed for centuries have context that isn't captured within the definition.
I remember in high school learning about Denotation and Connotation. Words have their literal meaning, but they've also got inseparable baggage -- meaning that's there, lurking whenever the word is used, but which doesn't strictly adhere to the explicit meaning of the word. That baggage is important. It's often more important than the literal definition, and it's usually what sparks arguments about word meaning.
There's nowhere to look up connotation, and no one source you can point to and say, "There. There it is." It's the feeling you get because every time you hear a word in your life, it's surrounded by some or all of the same other words or ideas.
Connotation is the vehicle by which difficult issues, like racism, sexism or anti-intellectualism, pervade every form of communication even though they very rarely stick out in a clear way.
So, to anyone in my future with whom I argue about words: if you try to end a conversation with a dictionary, I will hit you with it.†
*Yes, I do feel weird about the fact that the format I chose for that exchange requires me to use the word 'me' incorrectly. **Unless the argument is, "What's the [specific publication of a dictionary] definition of [word]?" †Violence is never the answer.