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Posts tagged ‘words’

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?

The two most overused words in English (or any other) language

As a writer, I consider myself a student of language. This includes both the uses and abuses of words common to our everyday communication. And while many words are overused all the time, in my opinion  there are two that stand out among the others. These words are “love” and “hate.”

Having written two books of poetry to this point, obviously a genre of writing that deals in emotion, I can understand the tendency to use such words quite often. However, I can also understand why doing so can essentially devalue them to some degree.

Let’s take some examples.

Love

Love is the strongest and most powerful positive emotion any being is capable of experiencing in their life. So while you may really enjoy pasta or are a huge fan of my hometown Pittsburgh Steelers, you neither love Italian food or the legendary football team.

Hate

Maybe this actor or that one may not be your favorite, or a specific song rubs you the wrong way. However, I am willing to bet that you do not actually hate either the movie star or that particular tune.

Moral of the story – think twice before using such strong words in either your writing or casual everyday speech.

Commonly confused words and the correct ways to use them

As a  native English speaker, I can assure you that many of us who are sometimes overlook the challenges and complexities our language present. In fact, I’ve even heard it said that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn  as a second language. Even for those of us who grew up speaking it as our primary source of linguistic communication, there are a few things that often result in confusion and technical errors.

questions

With that in mind, here is a link to an excellent source from the good people at  Writer’s Digest that helps to differentiate between commonly confused words.

The article discusses the terms:

Who vs. Whom

Which vs. That

Since vs. Because

Sneaked vs. Snuck

Ensure vs. Insure

Home in vs. Hone in

Leaped vs. Leapt

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.

 

A writers favorite…

It’s not uncommon that a person may be asked, “what is your favorite…?” Perhaps the question may be pertaining to movies, songs, artists, food, actors or any number of other possibilities. But while it may be a bit unusual for the average person, as a writer I actually have a favorite word.

Sure, you might expect someone you writes poetry books, or a person who teaches a language or perhaps an individual who writes speeches for a living to have a word that seems to tickle their fancy. But the average person?

You might be thinking that that seems a bit odd but in all reality, you probably have one as well. The difference is that you might not realize it.

Think about it. Is there a term you use often in your daily speech? Maybe there is a single word you always seem to say at the start or end of any conversation. If you take the time to really figure it out, you might just be surprised.

By the way, mine is aforementioned.

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