Connotation loss

James A. Landau <> JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Fri Jan 1 14:05:22 UTC 2010

On Thu, 31 Dec 2009 13:03:47 Zulu - 0500 SeanFitzpatrick <grendel.jjf at VERIZON.NET> asked:

Is there a thread, or even a term, for the phenomenon of a term losing
its positive or negative connotation and devolving to the simple, neutral
core meaning?  E.g., blatant [being] used to mean just obvious with no
connotation of showing something offensive character with no attempt at concealment.

I don't know a term for this, but this has happened to numerous words, e.g.
  - "awful", originally "awe-ful"
  - "awesome", originally "inspiring awe", now frequently a teen-age noise word
  - "terrible", originally "inspiring terror"
  - "lousy", originally "full of lice"
  - "greenback", originally a derisive term for the paper money issued by the North in the Civil War
  - "looney", originally "lunatic", now a term for Canadian money
  - "bedlam", originally "lunatic asylum", now "noisy condition"
  - "deuce", originally "Devil", now used in the US Army for "two", as in "deuce-and-a-half" (2 1/2 ton truck)

One quick way to find such usage changes is to look in an annotated Shakespeare for Elizabethan terms that now mean something different.

   - Jim

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