Word Meanings

Some word meanings change over time –

From the article ‘From abandon to nice… Words that have literally changed meaning through the years

When it comes to expressing ourselves, the world has been getting it wrong for hundreds of years… literally.

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The word “literally” means “in a literal way or sense” but, to the fury of language purists, many people now use it simply to stress a point.

And what about these words; how have they changed in meaning –

Awful – In the 1300s it originally meant “inspiring wonder” and was a short version of “full of awe”. But now the word has purely negative connotations.

Broadcast – It may now be the way the BBC spreads the news, but in 1767 “broadcast” meant sowing seeds with a sweeping movement of the hand or a “broad cast”. Its media use began with radio in 1922.

Gay – Back in the 13th century the word meant “light-hearted” or “joyous” and a century later it meant “bright and showy”.  But in the 1630s it acquired connotations of immorality with the term “Gay woman” meaning prostitute or “gay house” a brothel. It was first used to refer to homosexuality in the 1930s.

Nice – This word used to mean “silly, foolish, simple.” Far from the compliment it is today!

Naughty – Long ago, if you were naughty, you had naught or nothing. Then it came to mean evil or immoral, and now you are just badly behaved.

Flirt – Some 500 years ago, flirting was flicking something away or flicking open a fan or otherwise making a brisk or jerky motion. Now it involves playing with people’s emotions.

Hussy – Believe it or not, hussy comes from the word housewife (with several sound changes, clearly) and used to refer to the mistress of a household, not the disreputable woman it refers to today.

And here are more words; how have they changed in meaning –

Bad – Bad used to describe someone who’d done something wrong or something that was poor in quality. Today, it also means “good” or “great” when used as slang.

Sick – Sick used to mean ill. Today, it also means something is really amazing.

Rubbers – Rubbers also used to be erasers (and still mean erasers in Britain). Today, it’s most often slang for condoms.

Then there are these words – what do you think they mean today –

Stumble, Troll, Bandwidth, Stream, Spam, Dope, Cool, Bully, Tweet, Snap

You get the idea.

From Wikipedia.org –

What is semantic change?

Semantic change (also semantic shift, semantic progression or semantic drift) is the evolution of word usage — usually to the point that the modern meaning is radically different from the original usage. In diachronic (or historical) linguistics, semantic change is a change in one of the meanings of a word. Every word has a variety of senses and connotations, which can be added, removed, or altered over time, often to the extent that cognates across space and time have very different meanings.

Some people take words and use them for their true meaning.  Other’s will take words and use them as slang, using words to mean something else.

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I guess I do both, but there are certain words that I use for their true meaning and not for slang – this is important to me.  What about you?

22 thoughts on “Word Meanings

  1. Guilty as charged. I agree several words completely have evolved into something originally unintended and I have participated in the revolution/evolution. It’s an interesting list and I suspect we’ll continue to reconstruct more meanings as the years go on!

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  2. “Rubbers” were also galoshes (a word you rarely hear used at all any longer). I tend to be a ‘purist’ with language or I WAS until I realized that “American English” bears little resemblance to “European English” or the “Queen’s English”. Here’s my answers to the query about what the word means:
    (Urban Dictionary is my source)
    Stumble – uneven walking gait, trip and almost fall…these are the same meaning that I’ve always associated this word with.
    Troll – Now it means to go about on social media, looking to pick fights about ‘sensitive’ subjects like religion and politics. The person doing the picking is the ‘troll’. In fairy tales a troll was a monster that often lurked under bridges and ate children. Urban Dictionary defines it as: troll
    One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument
    Bandwidth- I always thought that was a radio term for the frequency tuned into. Urban Dictionary definition: The amount of data that can pass through an interface over time.
    Stream – to me? A small moving river. Or a modern way of listening to music or viewing media (movies, TV shows etc)…Urban Dictionary: A company in Beaverton, Oregon that was acquired by Solectron, famous for making up reasons for canning people. A great deal of people got their foot in the door of the tech industry by starting as a call center slob at Stream International. I learn something each day. Wow. Just Wow.
    Spam: A really disgusting mystery meat product. I cannot smell the stuff without becoming nauseated. It’s made up of ‘by-products’ particularly from pork. Today it’s unwanted advertisements from people and companies one may not know. Urban Dictionary: Unsolicted emails, most of which offer penis extensions under wordings to avoid filters, such as “exp and y00r man – rod” or “giv e her good lu ving with huu uuge man – st i ck” (I had no idea it was so vulgar! :O ! )
    Dope: To me? Drugs. Now it’s up-to-date, hip and popular or really good. U.D.: 1. adj. cool, nice, awesome
    Cool: To me? It was a term used by my generation to mean something popular and nice and awesome etc..(dope, hmm). U.D.: The best way to say something is neat-o, awesome, or swell. The phrase “cool” is very relaxed, never goes out of style, and people will never laugh at you for using it, very convenient for people like me who don’t care about what’s “in.”
    Bully: Two meanings for me: One – a harassing mean person who picks on weaker and seemingly easy targets. It also meant “cool” (Teddy Roosevelt is known for having said “Bully, bully.” when he thought something was great. Urban Dictionary agrees.
    Tweet: To me: The noise a bird makes. Now it’s an annoying (to me) social media venue where idiots give us unwanted minute by minute accounts of their lives. How they find time is beyond me. U.D.: Sweet! on Twitter. Used instead of ‘Sweet!’ whenever talking about something to do with Twitter. (“sweet” has become or was briefly a synonym for great, good, awesome, cool)
    Snap: To me? A sharp sound. (snapping dry twig), or an action by a person who is pushed beyond their limits and reacts. Usually badly. Today it >apparentlysigh< I'm getting old.

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    • Yes, all these words have changed meaning over the years. I worked in the IT field for many years, so I knew what stream and bandwidth meant. I think it is interesting how some of these words have changed a great deal. And I agree with you about the word ‘Cool’, I still use it! Thanks for reading and commenting! Hope your week is a great one! 🙂

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  3. Great post! I didn’t know about some of those and their original meanings. I completely agree with you that a lot of words I take for their actual meaning, and not the slang people use them for today. Words are important to me, and I don’t like it when people use them loosely! (If that even made sense,ha) I hope you’re having a great day! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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