With a breath-taking economy of words, a dictionary definition can add instant clarity. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language provides the following definition for two-spirit: "A person, especially a Native American man, who assumes the gender identity and is granted the social status of the opposite sex."
An online competitor, Dictionary.com offers the following definition: "Two Spirit is a third gender found in some Native American cultures, often involving birth-assigned men or women taking on the identities and roles of the opposite sex. A sacred and historical identity. Two Spirit can include but is by no means limited to LGBTQ identities."
Choosing definitions is not always as straight forward as it first appears. American Heritage Dictionary offers a concise rendering in 22 words, whereas Dictionary.com spreads its definition out to 47 words. While brevity is not necessarily the mark of a good definition, it can be a useful indicator. In its definition, Dictionary.com seems to falter by introducing new terms that require their own explanation, such as "third gender" and "birth-assigned." As well, Dictionary.com introduces statements that are not pertinent to the immediate definition, such as: "A sacred and historical identity" and "Two Spirit can include but is by no means limited to LGBTQ identities." These statements by themselves require elaboration.
In this brief analysis, it appears that the American Heritage Dictionary has offered a better and more usable definition.
Navigating the Internet can be a straight-forward process, even for finding definitions, at least at the outset. Dictionary.com, a popular sounding resource, furnishes a definition on the first screen of search results. However, if we compare the underpinnings of Dictionary.com with the American Heritage Dictionary, a different story emerges.
The note above appears at the end of Dictionary.com's entry for Two-Spirit. Instead of adding clarity, this note only contributes confusion and mystery. I have never heard of a definition being called an informal word summary!
Getting to know the underpinnings of an information source can also help you decide which sources to depend on, time and again. Dictionary.com offers the following statement.
It appears that Dictionary.com is a blend of several dictionary sources, including some that are trusted and established! The relationship Dictionary.com has with these established and trusted sources is unclear. Incidentally, the American Heritage Dictionary is one of their trusted and established sources!
The question then becomes, why use Dictionary.com, when you can use the American Heritage Dictionary directly?
Incidentally, the American Heritage Dictionary is embedded in Credo Reference, one of the library's collections.