Semantic Change

Revision cards about semantic change processes.

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  • The word retains its old meaning but also takes on a new one as well.
  • Examples:
      • Dogge (dog) - used to be a specific breed, now encompasses all breeds.
      • Butcher - a slaughterer of goats, now a slaughterer of other meats as well
      • Holiday - 'holy day', now also a day when we don't have to work.
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  • The word becomes more specific in its meaning.
  • Examples:
      • Meat - originally meant all foodstuffs, now just means animal  flesh
      • Deer - used to mean beast or animal, now it means Bambi
      • Girl - used to mean a young person of either sex, now refers to females exclusively.
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  • The word's menaing becomes more pleassant or positive.
  • Examples:
      • Pretty - once meant sly or cunning, now means beautiful or attractive.
      • Wicked - once meant evil now can also mean superb
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  • The word takes on a harsher or more negative meaning
  • Examples:
      • cowboy - Hollywood westerns, now means shoddy e.g. a cowyboy job
      • Gay - used to mean happy, but is now used in general to mean 'bad' e.g. that's so gay. (This also has homophobic connotations, and so there has been pejoration of the shifted meaning from 'happy' to 'homosexual' )
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  • The word's meaning loses some of its original force or strength
  • Examples:
      • Soon - used to mean immediately, now it means in the near future
      • Legendary - used to be used about old epics, the stuff of legend etc, now is used quite frequently on How I Met Your Mother just to mean 'great'
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  • A mild or inoffensive way of describing something unpleasant or distasteful
  • Examples:
      • Friendly fire - killing an allied soldier
      • Collateral damage - civilian casualties
      • Passed away - died
  • Can find lots of examples in medicine and military.
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Political Correctness

  • A drive to change or replace words which can be considered offensive or demeaning - this is a cause for semantic change
  • Examples:
      • Mixed race - instead of half-caste
      • Actor for both sexes instead of actor and actress.
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