Language Change: Semantics Key Terminology

A2 English Language: Language Change

Semantic change terminology and examples

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  • Created by: Emma
  • Created on: 15-06-11 15:44

Semantic broadening (also known as generalisation) 

When the meaning of a word broadens, retaining the old meaning but taking on a new meaning.

Example: 'holiday' originally meant 'holy day' broadened to mean any day off work

Semantic narrowing

Opposite of broadening

Example: 'meat' originally meant all solid food, but now refers to the flesh of any animal

Example: 'girl' originally used for all young people regardless of sex

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Amelioration

A change when the meaning of a word becomes more positive

Example: 'pretty' once meant 'sly'/'cunning' but now means 'attractive'

Example: 'wicked' now means 'cool'

Example: 'naughty' from Middle English 'nauht' (meaning worthless), used to mean 'immediately' now means 'sometime in the near future'

Example: 'brave' used to mean 'uncivilised'

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Perjoration

When the definition of a word becomes less favourable

Example: 'cowboy' now means someone who does not do a good job

Example: 'impertinent' (which used to mean 'irrelevant') now means 'inappropriate'/'rude'

Example: 'gay' meant happy but now means 'homosexual'

Example: 'juvenile' was more associated with youth, nowadays connected to deviancy and immaturity

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Weakening

When the force of the original meaning is weakened

Example: 'soon' used to mean 'immediately', now means 'sometime in the near future'

Metaphor

Words sometimes acquire new meanings when used metaphorically

Example: 'onion bag' is now used to denote a football net

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Idioms

Expressions/sayings comprised of existing words and often have a metaphorical base

Examples:

'in the doghouse'

'wake up and smell the coffee'

'rise and shine'

'spill the beans'

'don't let the bed bugs bite'

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Euphemisms

A mild in-offensive way of describing something distasteful or unpleasant

Examples:

'surgical strike'

'powdering your nose'

'at peace'

'having a moment'

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Dysphemism

Making an expression sound more unpleasant

Example: 'kicked the bucket'

Obsolete

No longer having any use

Drift

A process of linguistic change over a period of time

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Archaism

An old word or phrase no longer in general of written use

Term derives from Greek 'arkhaios' meaning ancient

Examples:

'broth'

'habited' (dressed)

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Political correctness

Drive to replace words and expressions that are considered to be offensive or demeaning to disadvantaged members of society

1980s movement

Examples:

'people with learning difficulties'

'mixed race'

'actor' (non gender-specific)

'fire officer'

The word 'golliwog' coined by Bertha Upton for a series of children's books at the end of the last century is now so negatively connotated that it is rarely seen.

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