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Posts tagged ‘definitions’

The art of language and definition change over time

Any writer must realize

when we try to define words, the definition of things tend to change over time. In fact, few people today may know what a given word we use on a daily basis might haven meant decades or even centuries ago. And the ones who do might potentially have a bit of an attitude when it comes to what we consider the “real” meaning of a word.

The truth is, there is no real meaning but just the meaning that the word was intended to convey at the time.

For example, while today one might use the word “girl” and a representation of a young female child. However, in centuries past, the term girl was used for a young person of either gender. That’s a big difference huh?

Some words change do to the influences of other languages and cultures while others adopt a new meaning due to the use of slang. No matter what the source of the change may be, the change itself can be quite interesting.

no dictionary

Here are some more fun examples:

Bad -

In many contexts it can mean negative or terrible while the slang of the last few decades has redefined it to also mean positive, good or outstanding.

Handsome -

Today this usually refers to a man who is attractive in appearance. However, in years past it referred to pleasant looking women.

Dude -

when used today, a dude tends to be a rather fun, lively or interesting guy. But with the earliest origination of the word, the term was one that depicted a pansy sort of man.

Interesting isn’t it?

Watch your mouth! – Accounting for cultural differences in word meanings

Native and non-Native English speakers

It has been said that English (which is my first and in all honesty except for a few courses years ago my only language) is among the most difficult to learn for non-native speakers. But there is more to it that just that. Even for native speakers, depending upon your culture and where you live, the same word or phrase can have quite a different meaning.

For example…

“Rubber” 

The basic definition refers to a highly elastic solid substance. However, when cultural slang comes into play, the meanings are quite different. In the United States, a “rubber” is a nickname for a condom. But, you walk into a pharmacy to purchase a rubber in England, you might just be out of luck. You’d be better off going to an office supply store as that a common meaning in the United Kingdom is simply an eraser.

“Player”

While like the aforementioned example, this word has a basic core meaning but when cultural influences come into play things change dramatically. I once had a co-worker from India. In a conversation about sports, she commented that she had been a player in her school days. While she meant that she had been an athlete, the rest of those involved in the chat snickered a little before mentioning the American meaning – a person (usually male) who is a master manipulator when it comes to sexually seducing others.

Quite simply, when either writing or speaking, the same word in the same language can hold an entirely strange connotation for one man in say America and another in Europe or Asia. So watch your mouth, before you speak.

 

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