reversal of a word's meaning

scotu

Senior Member
Chicago English
There is another thread referring to the word terrific and how it has reversed from a negative connotation to a possitive one. Vulgarities, obsenities and blasphmies also are known to do the same thng.

Is there a word that describes this process?
 
  • emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    Other examples are: wicked, sick (very popular amongst the younger generation), bad.

    I recently heard a 17 year old say "I went to this club in Sheffield at the weekend - it was SICK!", meaning it was really great.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    scotu said:
    There is another thread referring to the word terrific and how it has reversed from a negative connotation to a possitive one. Vulgarities, obsenities and blasphmies also are known to do the same thng.

    Is there a word that describes this process?
    You may select from among--

    Evolution
    Intelligent (but completely accidental) Design
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    scotu said:
    There is another thread referring to the word terrific and how it has reversed from a negative connotation to a possitive one. Vulgarities, obsenities and blasphmies also are known to do the same thng.

    Is there a word that describes this process?
    This process is called amelioration (a word gains positive conntations and loses negative ones). The reverse process is called pejoration.

    Hope this helps,
    Thomas
     

    mariposita

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I agree with Thomas1--I've heard this called "semantic pejoration."

    I was recently watching Woody Allen's movie, Manhattan. In it, his character uses the word terrific in a very genuine, positive way, without any irony. It then struck me that this word has nearly come full circle over the past decades--going back to a negative meaning, albeit one that is not quite the same as its etimological meaning..
     

    scotu

    Senior Member
    Chicago English
    Thomas1 said:
    This process is called amelioration (a word gains positive conntations and loses negative ones). The reverse process is called pejoration.

    Hope this helps,
    Thomas
    This helps alot. Thanks very much....

    Note: A confirmation check with my dictionary indicates that perhaps the correct word is its synonym melioration :tick:
     

    Joelline

    Senior Member
    American English
    I completely agree with Thomas1. I was taught to use amelioration and pejoration. Does anyone know if there is a word to describe a complete shift in meaning that is neither pejorative nor ameliorative? I'm thinking of "gay," for example.

    By the way, one of my favorite examples of pejoration is awful which comes from awe-full (to be regarded with awe and usually describing the deity).
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    Joelline said:
    I completely agree with Thomas1. I was taught to use amelioration and pejoration. Does anyone know if there is a word to describe a complete shift in meaning that is neither pejorative nor ameliorative? I'm thinking of "gay," for example.

    By the way, one of my favorite examples of pejoration is awful which comes from awe-full (to be regarded with awe and usually describing the deity).
    Hm, this could be extension methinks.

    As for the word "gay", IMHO this word extended its meaning though I'm not sure about some things here, so please clarify if I write something that is not true. :)
    It seems to me very probable that it underwent pejoration as the word is not used in its original sense anymore (at least to my knowledge), well, it is certainly avoided by many people. If so the new meaning would gain negative connotations and thus the process of pejoration seems to be plausible. What do you think?
     

    scotu

    Senior Member
    Chicago English
    It depends on you attitude, Those that identify with being gay probably woul say it's melioration; whereas those that think homosexuality is bad would think its pejoration.
     

    missjen

    Senior Member
    USA (CA and Midwest), English
    Thomas1 said:
    Hm, this could be extension methinks.

    As for the word "gay", IMHO this word extended its meaning though I'm not sure about some things here, so please clarify if I write something that is not true. :)
    It seems to me very probable that it underwent pejoration as the word is not used in its original sense anymore (at least to my knowledge), well, it is certainly avoided by many people. If so the new meaning would gain negative connotations and thus the process of pejoration seems to be plausible. What do you think?
    The homosexual community adopted "gay" BEFORE the connotation switch. It's harmless meaning, happy, was originally intented to reduce the villification of homosexuals by avoiding the use of homosexual (as a cultural identifier) which already had religious and social negatives attached to it.

    The word "gay" was pajorized (past tense of pejorization?) to mean "homosexual" with the same negative connotations. I believe that the word is currently in the process of ameliorization, that it is beginning to lose it's negative connotation in certain areas and cohorts. However, it is still used as an insult in many AE areas.

    Very interesting topic!
    Miss Jen
     

    scotu

    Senior Member
    Chicago English
    missjen said:
    The homosexual community adopted "gay" BEFORE the connotation switch. It's harmless meaning, happy, was originally intented to reduce the villification of homosexuals by avoiding the use of homosexual (as a cultural identifier) which already had religious and social negatives attached to it.

    The word "gay" was pajorized (past tense of pejorization?) to mean "homosexual" with the same negative connotations. I believe that the word is currently in the process of ameliorization, that it is beginning to lose it's negative connotation in certain areas and cohorts. However, it is still used as an insult in many AE areas.

    Very interesting topic!
    Miss Jen
    I have recently heard a whole new (pejoritive?) sense of the word "gay" among teenagers: As in "it was so gay" meaning: it was so weird
     

    missjen

    Senior Member
    USA (CA and Midwest), English
    scotu said:
    I have recently heard a whole new (pejoritive?) sense of the word "gay" among teenagers: As in "it was so gay" meaning: it was so weird
    Gay is also used in that way, as well as for "stupid" or "unnecessary".
    Example: This homework assignment is so GAY! It still carries negative connotations in these uses as well.

    You can note also that sick, ill, and bad, all have all reversed meanings. When I was in Highschool in San Diego all of those words were used in a positive sence, however they are just now appearing in the grammer school where I work in Minnesota.
    Some things just take time I guess...
    Miss Jen
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    As a non native, there are two pairs of English words I've always found funny because they contain the same root and have opposed meanings.

    terrible (negative) vs terrific (positive)
    awful (negative) vs awesome (positive)

    I guess terrific and awesome have both undergone a(n) (a)melioration process?
     

    mariposita

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I have recently heard a whole new (pejoritive?) sense of the word "gay" among teenagers: As in "it was so gay" meaning: it was so weird
    This has been around at least since the seventies. There are similar usages regarding pejoriative ethnic designations. A linguistic by-product of prejudice...
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    "Gay" was originally a code word, and it simply came into mainstream usage. The connection with homosexuality was that gaiety implied a certain whimsical departure from the norm, or frivolity-- or flamboyance. I mention that last word because "flamboyant" underwent a similar evolution.

    The word was big during the Jazz Age,especially among francophiles who'd had a taste of postwar Paris, or who affected it. A certain feminization of men, in the idle-rich social stratum at least, was accompanied by an upsurge in feminism unprecedented in history since the Renaissance. Gaiety had been a feminine trait, like capriciousness or hysteria, and these adjectives began being used by men to describe their own aberrant behavior-- usually after a night of drinking.

    Up till then the word had specific reference to Paris, and to the Belle Epoque (Gay Nineties in English). Paris being a favorite social venue and font of cultural values for the Lost Generation, the word only naturally entered the language-- it would be interesting to research which French words English acquired at that time, when French was no longer the cultural lingua franca of Europe.

    Because "gay" was a word that marked a Jazz-Age type, it was a good candidate for inclusion in the in-grouping vocabulary that was amassed by unconscious consensus by the Youth Movement two generations later, in another age marked by music style, questioning of social norms including gender demarcations-- and use of illegal intoxicants.

    Incidentally "black" underwent an amelioration at this same time-- until the 60s, "Negro" was polite and "black" was considered rude if not downright insulting. In the case of this word the change was a deliberate policy by the Word Police division by the well-meaning social engineers, both amateur and professional-- the same people who continue to run amok and give us "ownership challenged" to describe the mindset and actions of a thief. But I do think "little and loud, black and proud" was a triumph of early, reasonable "reeducation" of the "straight" mainstream population by attempted enforced linguistic change.

    I'm not surprised to hear slackers and the next generation on their heels, sneering and rolling their eyes and saying "that's so gay!" People instinctively resent and rebel against euphemism, especially when the switchover from blunt (and yes, derogatory) terms to bland gobbledygook is mandated from a self-elected elite.

    "Gay" will go obsolete, of course, and a good (even irreplaceable) word will be lost. Maybe in a future where madcap harmlessly irresponsible enjoyment can get you killed, this will not be such a bad thing. Especially when you're in an airport, being frisked.
    .
     

    scotu

    Senior Member
    Chicago English
    emma42 said:
    Certainly! The "N" word, particularly springs to mind. Black people will use it amongst themselves with no negative connotation at all.
    Not so much any more. Young (US) anglos have also started using the "N" word as a friendly greeting to other anglos. Once again, a word that many considered loathsome is reversing to be a friendly neutral greeting. Personally, I think it's great when words that are used as ugly pejorative labels lose their negative value and become just words.

    SCOTU
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    scotu said:
    Not so much any more. Young (US) anglos have also started using the "N" word as a friendly greeting to other anglos. Once again, a word that many considered loathsome is reversing to be a friendly neutral greeting. Personally, I think it's great when words that are used as ugly pejorative labels lose their negative value and become just words.

    SCOTU
    And if a black person overheard that exchange how would they take it?
    I think that the "N" word is a long way from becoming neutral - especially when spoken by white people. The speaker may not mean anything nasty by it, but does the person who hears it know that?
     

    mariposita

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I think that the "N" word is a long way from becoming neutral - especially when spoken by white people. The speaker may not mean anything nasty by it, but does the person who hears it know that?
    Agreed. I think that it is quite naive to believe that one can use a racial, ethnic or other slur and that his good or innocuous intentions will be understood. When I hear a person of any persuasion saying the "N" word in my presense, I stop them in their tracks. For me this is still a very offensive word.
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    Yes, Scotu, I have heard (very occasionally) young white people refer to eachother as "N" - it's all part of the ubiquitous Afro-American youth culture, isn't it? However, by no means is this widespread in Britain. Maybe a younger person would disagree. I would certainly never use the word.
     

    mariposita

    Senior Member
    US, English
    it's all part of the ubiquitous Afro-American youth culture,
    My opinion: I think it about appropriating certain usage from a culture in an unwise and insensitive way. But, then again, we all do that when we are kids, so it is nothing new.
     

    scotu

    Senior Member
    Chicago English
    mariposita said:
    Agreed. I think that it is quite naive to believe that one can use a racial, ethnic or other slur and that his good or innocuous intentions will be understood. When I hear a person of any persuasion saying the "N" word in my presense, I stop them in their tracks. For me this is still a very offensive word.
    I quite agree that use of the "N" word is generally accepted as offensive. However I believe that "labeling" a person by their skin color by using a more politically correct word is equally offensive. Remember that for 100 years in US history, the "N" word was not offensive it was simply the word to label slaves who at the time, according to the US constitution were only 3/5 of a person (speaking of offensive).

    I believe that like other words that give offense, gradually this one will become neutalized and then friendly.
    In Mexico we have, for example, the word "gringo":warn: and in the US "dago":warn: These words were once offensive; but I wager that today few Americans in Mexico or Italian-Americans would take offense at these words when used in a friendly way.

    Words are neutral, a word itself cannot be offensive. Only the user of a word can be offensive (cause offense) by his use of that word, It is not the word but the speaker which causes the offense.
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    There is a lot in what you say, but a word may cause offence because it is generally thought to be offensive, even if the speaker is totally non-offensive in every other way. I cannot imagine smiling at my black friend and saying "Hello, "N"". She would be horrified.
     

    scotu

    Senior Member
    Chicago English
    emma42 said:
    There is a lot in what you say, but a word may cause offence because it is generally thought to be offensive, even if the speaker is totally non-offensive in every other way. I cannot imagine smiling at my black friend and saying "Hello, "N"". She would be horrified.
    Of course she would be..but if I were her, I would be also be offended if you called me your "black friend" and not simply "your friend"
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    I had to explain that she was black within the context of this discussion. Of course I wouldn't describe her as my black friend in ordinary discourse!
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    scotu said:
    It depends on you attitude, Those that identify with being gay probably woul say it's melioration; whereas those that think homosexuality is bad would think its pejoration.
    Then, if people identifying with homosexuals consider this word has positive connotations it would underwent extension. The word had already positive connotations (merry, joyful, colorful, bright). So, it would gain new meaning but the connotations would not change, this process is called extension. :)

    Amelioration is when a word gains positive (or sometimes neutral) connotations and loses negative ones. Extension occurs when a word gets new meaning but it does not lose nor gain any connotation.

    However, from your posterior answers I would say that it underwent pejorization.
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    LV4-26 said:
    As a non native, there are two pairs of English words I've always found funny because they contain the same root and have opposed meanings.

    terrible (negative) vs terrific (positive)
    awful (negative) vs awesome (positive)

    I guess terrific and awesome have both undergone a(n) (a)melioration process?
    Yep, according to the info I have found “terrific” used to mean frightening and from around end of 19th century it changed its meaning to excellent. “Awesome” is relatively new, it comes from the 80s of the previous century.
     

    mariposita

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I think that the case of the word gay would have to be one of extension. Because the meaning of the word "gay" was happy and carefree. If it were to undergo semantic pejoration, it would mean "less than happy." Gay (when referring to homosexuality) doesn't carry this meaning at all.
     

    scotu

    Senior Member
    Chicago English
    Thomas1 said:
    Then, if people identifying with homosexuals consider this word has positive connotations it would underwent extension. The word had already positive connotations (merry, joyful, colorful, bright). So, it would gain new meaning but the connotations would not change, this process is called extension. :)

    Amelioration :cross: (my dictionaries indicate the correct word is "melioration" not Amelioration ) is when a word gains positive (or sometimes neutral) connotations and loses negative ones. Extension occurs when a word gets new meaning but it does not lose nor gain any connotation.

    However, from your posterior (do you mean previous?)answers I would say that it underwent pejorization. Please explain this last sentence.
    First, I want to thank you for the linguistic education; these concepts are all new ones and I need to think about them and digest them.
    You have introduced me to three new concepts: melioration The linguistic process by which a word over a period of time grows more elevated in meaning or more positive in connotation, as cool which formerly meant" lacking warmth" has come to mean " really hot";pejoration The process by which the meaning of a word becomes negative or less elevated over a period of time, as silly, which formerly meant "deserving sympathy, helpless or simple," has come to mean "showing a lack of good sense, frivolous" and extension which is using an old word in a new way.
    As to use of the word "gay" I don’t think it is either more or less elevated when used to mean homosexual. Therefore maybe extension is a better category?
    That being said, one of my individual quirks is that I am uncomfortable with words that label an individual, regardless of whether the label is positive or negative. I know few would agree with me but I am as uncomfortable with hearing "she is gay" as I am in hearing "he is a womanizer" or "she is a thief" . But this is a whole new subject and perhaps better for a new (cultural?) thread.
     

    nycphotography

    Senior Member
    American English
    scotu said:
    Words are neutral, a word itself cannot be offensive. Only the user of a word can be offensive (cause offense) by his use of that word, It is not the word but the speaker which causes the offense.
    Actually, in the case of words, it's not the speaker that causes offense, it's the listener that opts to take it.
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    nycphotography said:
    Actually, in the case of words, it's not the speaker that causes offense, it's the listener that opts to take it.
    Well said!
    Have you ever noticed how, if you ignore someone who is deliberately trying to offend, they get very uspet! It's great fun!
     

    nycphotography

    Senior Member
    American English
    maxiogee said:
    Well said!
    Have you ever noticed how, if you ignore someone who is deliberately trying to offend, they get very uspet! It's great fun!
    It's really all about power. If they have the power to offend you, then they can manipulate you at will. If you have the power to not take offense, then you have the power to [understand and] potentially manipulate them at will.

    When you take offense, you give up your power to choose your own behavior, response, thoughts, etc.
     

    jackronner

    New Member
    English
    There is another thread referring to the word terrific and how it has reversed from a negative connotation to a possitive one. Vulgarities, obsenities and blasphmies also are known to do the same thng.

    Is there a word that describes this process?
    Here's a word that has come full circle: FULSOME. What is, for the moment, still frowned upon is the neutral or even positive usage of the word (common in the past few decades) connoting "full, copious, generous"; e.g., a fulsome figure (read: buxom, zaftig), a fulsome explanation. Caught in the middle is "fulsome praise" which has, for centuries, been exclusively pejorative, and meant offensively, cloyingly overdone, excessive to the point of being a blandishment; insincere. It also meant a surfeit or overindulgence, such as fulsome servings; almost crapulous. The recent, positive, connotations are, ironically, a return to the original meaning of the word, drawing on the "full" of the word, mostly in "a fulsome figure", etc. This is almost certainly the result of an uninformed reading of the word that has gained currency lately, and does render established phrases such as "fulsome praise" a bit equivocal. Reminds me of the recent acceptance of "infer" as a synonym for "imply"; it confuses the issue when there used to be a clear separation of meaning; a similar glacial erosion that has been accepted by the weight of mis-usage.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top