Connotation loss

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 1 17:55:04 UTC 2010

Seán Fitzpatrick wrote:
> The Fromm family eventually did get their comeuppance, however
> belatedly. Throughout the decades, the family has sought and
> received some reparation from the German government through
> various legal channels.  And the Fromm condom empire, now
> under a different name, is still the second-highest
> selling condom brand in Germany.
> - The Jewish Condom Magnate - The Daily Beast
> "Comeuppance" here just means compensation, without the usual
> connotation of just desserts for wicked deeds.

The author does use the term "their comeuppance" in reference to the
Fromm family; however, it is possible that the author intends that the
rebuke, penalty, or just deserts associated with the comeuppance is
experienced by the German government and/or people.

Seán Fitzpatrick wrote:
> 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?

This reminds me of the controversy over the word "enormity".
Influential usage guides state that the word "enormity" has a negative
connotation and it should only be used to designate great wickedness.
However, the posited distinction between enormity and enormousness is
now ignored by many speakers, e.g., Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan.

Ben Zimmer wrote about prescriptive distinctions in the usage of the
word "enormity" in a column at the Visual Thesaurus website in January

The Online Merriam-Webster dictionary contains a usage note for the
word "enormity" that presents historical evidence questioning
prescriptivist advice.

The American Heritage dictionary presents evidence of Usage Panel
hostility toward ignoring prescriptivist advice:

Fifty-nine percent of the Usage Panel rejects the use of enormity as a
synonym for immensity in the sentence At that point the engineers sat
down to design an entirely new viaduct, apparently undaunted by the
enormity of their task.


The American Dialect Society -

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