i love english language

Words in Flux

Posted in Uncategorized by aggslanguage on October 7, 2010



The word fit originally meant how physically fit and about how much exercise a person did. It also meant if things were the correct size or shape. Both original meanings do apply to a person’s physical appearance and over time it has broadened to also mean if a person is physically attractive. This has most likely come from the connotations of the word fit being a positive word and to do with a person’s appearance and has in some sense has been ameliorated because it went from being a neutral word to having a positive meaning. This is a social change because it has become a slang word due to it becoming a fashionable word among the younger generation particularly related to the fact that in the recent years society has become very focused on image and appearance. This means the word fit may have also undergone a form of cultural change because of the impact of the media and celebrity culture because people have become fascinated with looking a certain way and this has impacted how language has been affected in the way we describe attractiveness.




Wicked was initially used in a negative way, firstly associated with witchcraft and meant someone was evil before just becoming a negative word meaning if someone did something malicious or horrible though less serious than its original meaning of evil. However recently it has broadened and ameliorated to meaning if something is good or really cool and now has positive connotations. This is most likely a social change as it is used as a slang word mostly by the younger generation and is part of a collection of words that have undergone a semantic shift and amelioration such as ‘bad’ and ‘ill’, words that originally had negative connotations which are now used in a positive manner. This could be because it has become fashionable to do so and therefore it was expanded to other words which were negative as well.




Babe was used to refer to a very young child/infant and become a shortening of baby. However this is very rarely used to describe a young child or infant anymore and has undergone a narrowing and babe is now used either as a term of endearment or to describe an attractive female and has gone from having neutral connotations to positive ones. This could be a social change again because it is a slang word again however it is not a recent slang word and has been used for a number of decades now. This could have been started by men’s attitude to women at a time when women had lower status and weren’t seen as equals but more as wives and sex objects and therefore men referred to them as ‘babes’ because this meant an attractive female. However over the years it has broadened to become a general term of endearment as well to refer to both men and women. This may have come about also through the more equal status of men and women in recent years.





This was coined in the mid nineties to describe a drink that had recently become popular – a mixture of alcohol and fruit flavourings akin to a wine cooler. The new invention needed a new name, so the neologism ‘alcopop’ sprang into existence to describe it, as in the model described in the theory of lexical gaps.

‘Alcopop’ is a blend of the words ‘alcohol’ and ‘pop’ (meaning fizzy drinks in this instance).  The word has fallen out of use with young people after suffering some negative press with regards to underage drinking. It is more commonly associated with cider swigging yobs who terrorise pensioners and vomit on park benches than with the young, hip crowd it was designed for. It’s not quite pejoration, but alcopop’s connotations have gone downhill somewhat.

‘Alcopop’ has remained in use because no other words have been invented to replace it. Although the people who drink alcopops tend to be fairly young, it is adults who use the word ‘alcopop’ the most – the consumers tend to refer to the drink by preferred brand (WKD and Smirnoff Ice being the most popular). This is not yet eponymous as people do not refer to all alcopops as WKDs, but it is a method of avoiding sounding geriatric by saying ‘alcopops’.




The original meaning of ‘googol’ is the number 10100. Complete with a spelling change, ‘Google’ was a neologism used to name the new search engine in 1997. It didn’t take long for the conversion of the proper noun ‘Google’ into the eponymous verb ‘to google’ (or ‘to Google’), the first recorded use of which was in 1998 by its creator Larry Page. Conversions and neologisms are common with technology because when something is invented we have to come up with words to describe it. It was added to the OED in 2006, by which time ‘to use the internet’ or ‘to use a search engine’ had become synonymous with ‘googling’. Several variations of ‘googling’ have arisen, such as ‘googlewhacking’ and ‘book googling’. Replacing the phrase ‘conducting an internet search’ with ‘googling’ is now extremely common across most generations apart from fairly aged people who got left behind in the computer revolution of the 90s. There aren’t any similar words, as ‘Yahooing’ or ‘Asking Jeeves’ doesn’t have the same ring to it and they are not as popular search engines as Google.




Is a swearword! It is of Anglo Saxon origin in the form ‘shitten’ as exhibited in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. It is – as well as ‘shite’, an alternative prevalent in Ireland, Scotland and Northern England – primarily used as a synonym for literal faeces, and is usually now used as an adjective for something that isn’t very good. However, ‘shit’ has undergone some semantic change in recent years that ‘shite’ hasn’t. Although ‘shit’ is still taboo language, amelioration has lead to it being interchangeable with ‘stuff’ or ‘thing’. For example, in ‘Move that shit out of the way’, it is used to add extra harshness to the command. In ‘That’s some gooooood shit’ (usually in reference to drugs or alcohol), it makes the substance in question seem that bit more illicit and shady. Furthermore, ‘shit’ can be taken to mean ‘best’ when used in conjunction with the definite article. Saying ‘He’s the shit!’ is very complementary, because instead of saying ‘He’s a cool guy’, using ‘shit’ here makes the person in question seem that bit funnier or more skilled. ‘Shit’ is used in these contexts not because there was lack of a suitable pre-existing word, but because it’s nice to vary our language sometimes and it has a particular nuance that gives it an edge over alternatives like ‘things’ or ‘cool guy’ or ‘drugs’. These meanings tend to be used by the younger generation, whereas ‘shit’ as a substitute for ‘rubbish’ is common in speech of older and younger people alike. There are many synonyms for ‘shit’. As both nouns and adjectives, ‘bullshit’ (and subsequently the back formation ‘bull’), and also ‘crap’, are interchangeable with ‘shit’. ‘Crap’, while still rude, is less offensive and ‘Bullshit’ is a bit of an Americanism. ‘Shit’ is a popular swearword because it is applicable in many situations. It is harsh enough to imply considerable frustration when it is used as an expletive and has garnered a reputation as offensive language so that when applied in other situations it is still edgy and cool.


IM Speak


Laziness and need for rapid information exchange have caused many new acronyms to spawn in recent years. They save time and keystrokes for the sender but may cause confusion to the receiver if they don’t know what that particular initialism means. These mainly occur over the internet, but some crop up in everyday conversation, for example ‘LOL’ and ‘ROFL’. ‘LOL’ is used to show laughter in cases where it is rare that the sender is actually laughing out loud but wishes to convey their amusement without writing ‘hahahahahahaaa!’. It is popular because it gives a physical representation to somebody’s appreciation of humour, however now ‘LOL’ is so commonly used that very few people get a mental image when it is used. ‘LOL’ can  just be used as a replacement for ‘that was funny’. These terms are used primarily amongst the younger generations (or misused amongst the older ones) because it is teenagers and young adults who tend to use MSN and Facebook Chat, where such initialisms are commonplace. Some, like ‘BRB’, can only be used in the context of an IM conversation, where interaction happens in real-time. Others, such as ‘ILY’ and ‘CBA’ have wormed their way into normal speech. ‘CBA’ has suffered further amendments; ‘ceebs’ is now recognised as an acceptable substitute for ‘I can’t be arsed’, and only exemplifies the sentiment as the user has shortened a four syllable sentence to a monosyllabic utterance. Simarly, ‘ROFL’ and ‘LMAO’ (or ‘LMFAO’ for extra emphasis) are sometimes blended to create ‘ROFLMAO’ as a superlative demonstration of laughter. IM Speak is unpopular amongst prescriptionists who blame it for a decline in written grammar and spelling. It arrived very quickly with the emergence of instant messenger, MSN, and other internet chat functions and quickly found its way into informal written language. What worries those who oppose language change is how these initialisms, abbreviations and sayings have cropped up in spoken language and in written work where such spellings and phrases are inappropriate (particularly in secondary school pupils where use of MSN is most common).




‘Hit’ still means a strike or physical blow, but it has come to mean many other things too because of broadening. A ‘hit’ is a result of a search of a computer system or, for example, the entire Internet using a search engine. This semantic shift occurred to fill a lexical gap because prior to the nineties there were no such things as Internet searches and no such things as search results. This is a widely used synonym for ‘results’ across all of the generations that are computer literate because, other than ‘results’, there aren’t many alternative ways of saying ‘hit’.

‘Hit’ can also be taken to mean an inhalation of marijuana, as when ‘taking a hit off the bong’, or an injection of heroin, as when addicts talk about ‘finding their next hit’. This may be because of the instantaneous and forceful nature of the effects caused by drug use. Because of the connotations of violence that ‘hit’ has, its use here makes the drug-taking seem more illicit and risky. If somebody is ‘a hit with the ladies’, it means that they are well liked by women. Usage of ‘hit’ in this context spawned ‘hit’, or ‘smash hit’ being used to describe films or songs that are violently successful in the charts. When something is ‘a hit in the charts’ it has done very well, has good sales or is well liked by reviewers and the public. ‘Smash hit’ has connotations of breaking records and new levels of success so perhaps ‘hit’ was first used in this context to demonstrate the force of the reaction that the ‘hit’ attraction creates. In the context of ‘I’d hit that’, ‘hit’ means ‘have sex with’ (in a highly objectifying manner), and ‘to hit on someone’ means to come onto them. It is replaceable with other slang terms for sex in this phrase such as ‘tap’ or ‘do’. ‘Hit’ exemplifies the physical nature of the statement and perhaps hints at the disrespect aimed at the subject, where they are the victim of the action. This use is more typical amongst misogynistic young men as they are often the only group shallow enough to make flippant comments like this, however women are not completely innocent in its usage. Some people would be flattered to overhear this but others would be offended to be reduced to a target, so ‘hit’ in this context is usually used to shock, make laughs or encourage similar sentiments. In blackjack, players ask the dealer to ‘hit me’ when they want a new card, whereas in the context of ‘I’ll hit you back later’, it replaces ‘pay’. These uses are not owing to a lexical gap but because English speakers are always searching for innovative and more casual ways to express themselves. ‘Hit’ simply sounds more street that ‘pay’ or ‘give’. In the business of contract killing, ‘hit’ in a sentence such as ‘The assassin’s next hit was a dot-com millionaire with a dodgy toupee and more money than sense’, is interchangeable with ‘job’, ‘target’ or ‘victim’. Assassins (snipers in particular) tend to use guns, where a direct hit of the target would be a job done. Of course, the face that ‘hit’ has violent connotations makes it very applicable to this situation. It might also make their job easier for the killers to discuss; if overheard, ‘hit’ is harmless whereas ‘the person I am going to kill’ may attract unwanted attention.






Originally a noun used to describe a small, long-tailed rodent, and an adjective to describe a very timid person. mouse has undergone broadening and conversion and is now most commonly used as the noun associated with computers, the hand-held device used to move the cursor. this semantic shift occurred out of necessity, the invention of, and advances in, computing. words that have undergone similar change for the same reasons are bug and virus, having also undergone broadening and conversion to now mean problems with technology, specifically computers, not just human illness.




Originally a verb meaning to pitch a tent on a campsite, it underwent conversion to become an adjective, which then underwent pejoration and later amelioration. In 1909, it meant ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical and effeminate behaviour, but by the mid 1970s, it had become more negative, meaning banality, artifice and mediocrity. However, these days, it is often used as an endearing term to describe a feminine man, whether homosexual or not. This amelioration would appear to have shifted along with attitudes towards homosexuality, due to its link to gay men. In the 1970s, attitudes were very negative, and so words associated with gay men would’ve undergone pejoration, due to this connection. These days, society is much more accepting and liberal, explain why camp has undergone amelioration, as we feel it is now acceptable to address homosexual men in a way that is not degrading. Other words once used by homophobes to negatively describe a gay man or woman have also undergone amelioration in recent years, such as queer and fag. The terms are now being used by the gay community itself as positive or neutral descriptives of each other. By embracing a word that was used to attack or degrade, the gay community has demagnetized the strength of the word, ameliorating it and making it a common everyday term. This lessens the effect of the word when used against them.




Originally meant non-ecclesiastical, which would of have had negative connotations given the country’s love of religion. From that, it then came to mean uneducated and unlearned, which developed into meaning vulgar and lower-class. As the upper classes used to have a very low opinion of those of a lower social status than themselves and thought they were all rude and stupid, lewd then began to mean bad-mannered and ignorant, thanks to the bad opinion of the lower classes. however, the word underwent its biggest semantic shift when more recently it acquired a sexual connotation, nowadays meaning sexually insinuating. it underwent a sudden narrowing which cancelled out all other meanings as its denotation is affected. this shows how particular connotations, such as sexual, overpower the others due to society’s attitude to sexual things.




The original meaning was pleasure, such as the pleasure that great treasure would have brought, but it underwent specialisation and pejoration, as speakers began to associate it with only one type of pleasure. This narrowing again shows how one type of connotations, especially sexual, can overshadow all other meanings.




Originally meant a break in an object, but now it has undergone broadening and is a slang word for the class A drug cocaine. Slang is an ever-changing set of colloquial words that is used to reinforce one’s social status, and so the broadening of crack was very sudden as it would’ve spread very quickly, especially through the teenage population, who are the most concerned about social status and belonging to some kind of group. The same may also be said for ecstasy; it used to mean an intense, euphoric experience rarely used in a scientific context due to its being a concept that is extremely hard to define. However, although it was previously used as an abstract noun to describe a state induced by drugs, it underwent conversion in the late 1980s to become the concrete noun that we know today.





This is an abbreviation for the much loved film genre of “Romantic Comedy”. It originates from America in reference to a new type of film genre i.e. the Romantic Comedy. However as America has a global impact its films and this new genre of films were viewed by millions over the world. As a new genre of film, other countries for example us in Britain had no name for this new genre and so “latched on” to the American abbreviation “rom-com”. This is an example of Bailey’s wave model as the abbreviation “Rom-Com” has first been used in America and has now spread globally. “Rom-Com” is widely used by many be that cinema visitors to film critics it is now an everyday part of language. There are other names for “Rom-Com” such as “Chick-flick” which depicts this type of film’s audience. However whilst the noun “Rom-Com” has become integrated into our everyday language there are other Americanisms such as “Making out” that whilst are widely understood by us our not used. This is because us as the British have our own words to refer to the action of “making out” for example “getting off” or “snogging” and therefore we did not need another clause. But as the romantic comedy was a new type of film genre we had no words or abbreviations for it and therefore there was a “lexical gap” and therefore need in our language for this abbreviation to fit.




The original denotation of this word is a female dog. However throughout history the denotation has been broadened. The word “Bitch” has now become a derogatory way of speaking of a woman. This word was first taken on by men to refer to a strong or assertive woman who might make a man feel threatened in the early 1980’s perhaps due to the feminist movement. It then progressed further to be used by women themselves to refer to another woman as an insult. However today, like the word “nigger”, “bitch” is used by women as a sign of endearment or joke. But if a man called a woman a “bitch” due to the negative and derogative connotations it still has it would be taken as an insult. Whilst there are few words that can be used to refer to men in a derogative manner like “bitch” there are many more for women for example “slag” and “tart”. This shows that language reflects society’s views for example in the past men were believed to have greater status than women and these words reflect this view. However the use of “bitch” and “slag” still today show that whilst we have undergone demographic change in society, language is slow to catch on and today women still remain unequal in language.




When “chav” earned its place in the online dictionary, it had already become more of a phenomenon than a word. It originated in southern England (possibly in Chatham, Kent, depending on which sources you believe) to characterise people, who, according to the dictionary, are of low social status, tend to dress in sportswear and behave loutishly. However, as use of the word spread following Bailey’s wave model, chav became less of an insult and became more of a label some young people were proud of as it took on associations with fashion and music. According to “new words of the decade” it can never be used in a serious context without making you look like a snob. The word “chav” not only illustrated how language can be used as a way of distinguishing class and in a derogative manner like “bitch”. But also how a word such as “chav” can go from having negative connotations and associations to become something in which people aspire to be like or to be classed as.


Chill pill


Favoured by teenagers (mainly in US dramas when talking to their ridiculously young-looking parents), the term made its way into the OED Online in 2007. Unfortunately it did so a few years after it stopped being acceptable to say it in public. Said in the context of “take a chill pill”, it is ostensibly used to encourage someone to calm down, but invariably has the opposite effect. The term “chill pill” is a marking of the rise of youth speak in which the youth of today seem to have adapted their own language other examples include “safe”, “sick” etc. However the lack of usage of this today despite its entry in the Oxford Dictionary highlights how like fashion language goes through trends. This is particularly the case in “teenage” language in which words and phrases such as “chill pill” become quickly dropped and replaced in language when they become overused or too many people catch on to the saying.


In ten


This prepositional phrase which omits the timescale “minutes” is now often used as an indication of time. It takes many forms such as “see you in ten” and is now widely known of its meaning. This is an example of how we change language to fit our “lazy nature” and omit unnecessary words that are not needed to further meaning. Language when referring to timescales is quite peculiar for example one may say “see you later” which infers that the people will see each other again at some point in that week when in fact what they really mean to say is “bye”. It shows that in different contexts language can be used incorrectly but still make sense in that context.




Originally, wicked connoted an idea of something bad and terrible and derived from the word “wizard”. There are several definitions for the adjective in the dictionary, such as: Evil or morally bad in principle or practice; sinful; iniquitous: wicked people; wicked habits. Mischievous or playfully malicious: These wicked kittens upset everything. Distressingly severe, as a storm, wound, or cold: a wicked winter. Unjustifiable; dreadful; beastly: wicked prices; a wicked exam. Having a bad disposition; ill-natured; mean: a wicked horse. Spiteful; malevolent; vicious: a wicked tongue. Unpleasant or troublesome: a wicked odor. Today, these definitions still stand but the semantics of the word have broadened as “wicked” can now be used in a slang form to show something as being good or great. This new slang definition is also seen in today’s dictionary showing that its new meaning has been accepted and has undergone ameliorative change, gaining a positive association.




Stemming from the word “radical” meaning extreme or drastic, “rad” is not commonly used although is a part of our language today, meaning something cool, something hip or something crazy. It is also considered to be a form of praise that is why somebody could say “she’s actually pretty rad when you get to know her, even if she is quiet at first”. The word “rad” has become more predominant in our language over the last thirty years as U.S. youth slang use of “radical” meaning cool and at the limits of control was then clipped to just “rad”. This language change occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. This shows evidence of the substratum theory of language change as language has travelled to us from America.




This word has been present since the 16th Century and was used to describe somebody who was mentally ill, had the mental capacity of a young child or a low level of intelligence. Nowadays it is deemed quite an offensive term even though it was originally used to describe somebody’s mental well being. The word is used in offence nowadays in order to tell someone they are mentally stupid and it is also used offensively towards physical disabilities. The meaning of the word has broadened however it is not often used within our language now, similar to the word “retard”. It is more likely we would say somebody is “mentally disabled” rather than call them an “imbecile”.




To begin with the word “graffiti” was taken from the word “graffitio” which means to scratch into something. However nowadays the verb “to Graffiti” or the concrete noun “Graffiti” holds a negative meaning and shows evidence of a pejorative word change. Due to social classes of today the word “graffiti” has changed in its meaning. You find ‘graffiti’ on back streets and on public sites, something that is unwanted by many in society. Therefore to graffiti has now gained a negative meaning to its meaning.


Courting and Fit


“Courting” is not regularly used today as a part of our English language and instead it is more likely somebody would say they “fancy” someone or “like” someone. If you were to hear somebody use such a word today you would be slightly bemused as it is an old fashioned archaic word that has lost its need in English language over time. Differently, “fit” has crept into our English language and is used to describe a good looking, sexy person. No longer does “fit” just apply to somebody’s health but it also means how somebody looks.

Both words show lexical change and there has been a shift in people’s preference to the word they would rather use. New words come about by word of mouth and they spread, supporting the Bailey wave model. Through such a language spread we learn new words and then prefer the words we learn.




the verb ‘retard’, which comes from Latin origin, previously meant to cause to move or proceed slowly. However the verb form has undergone conversion and ‘retard’ is now used as a noun. The noun is used to mean a mentally retarded person, someone who has special needs and is now not seen as politically correct. With time, came the adaptation of meaning once again with it not being exclusive to mentally ill people and instead it became an offensive slang word for anybody seen as slow or has done something foolish.




The adverb together has not shown semantic change but instead is an example of pronunciation change. There is considered to be a right and a wrong way to pronounce this word with the two ways seen as a marker for class differences. ‘tu:gεθə’ is seen as the standard pronunciation and has overt prestige. ‘tu:gεvə’ is therefore seen as the marker for lower class and some would say it is a lazier pronunciation and quite common. Pronunciation change that gives the same impression as ‘together’ can be seen in words such as ‘twenty’ and ‘Saturday’ where the pronunciation of the letter combinations ‘ty’ and ‘tu’ can be pronounced in different ways.




The word ‘sick’ comes from Old English and originally had medical connotations. The verb ‘to be sick’ means to empty the contents of the stomach through the mouth and the noun version relates to the people that are suffering from the illness. There is also an adjective ‘sick’ which relates to someone or something that is ill or affected by impairment. The adjective version has, in recent times, been adapted to also mean evil. However, within the youngest generation, it has changed in meaning once again, and amelioration has taken place, as it is now used to express how something is amazing. Interestingly, this word has also narrowed in its use because it is used very little in reference to a person being ill in certain areas and used greatly for something being good in other areas. This could potentially be due to a varying social background of the people using the word, as this word is used in this way by lesser educated people who do not use standard grammar and vocabulary.





This noun is very recent in terms of language formation. The word was first used in the 1970s and it is a blend of the word ‘work’ and the suffix ‘holic’. ‘Holic’ denotes addiction to the subject in question which means in this case somebody who is a workaholic is somebody that is addicted to working excessively. Other examples of this modern blending of a noun and a suffix include chocoholic and shopaholic and if you were to use these words in a sentence, it would seem as though you were mocking as in most scenarios they are used as hyperbole.  The reason for this blend is because the only other definition would be ‘somebody addicted to working’ which is a lot longer and therefore for the pure ease of speech, blending has taken place.




The word ‘menu’ is of French origin. This is an example of borrowing as it shows how we have taken this French word and fitted it into the English language we know and use today. The word ‘menu’ is the only word used to describe the list of food/drink items or meals that you can purchase and it is very difficult to think of a word or phrase that you would use instead. The word ‘menu’ is not exclusive in the English language to its cuisine related meaning and has been taken to also mean a list of options available to a computer user. This shows how with technological developments, words have been borrowed or used again in order to fill the need for a word, this can also been seen with the noun ‘mouse’.





This word has had a semantic change as it used to just mean when somebody squandered something whereas how it is commonly used to describe a very drunk person. This words meaning has been broadened meaning it could be due to newer generations taking old words and giving them new meanings in their social groups which then spreads it. It could also be due to social background, only certain people may choose to use this word, many people would just say ‘drunk’ or ‘intoxicated’.





Previously meaning a host of angels, the word underwent pejoration when people began to use it to refer to the monarchy. As democracy spread throughout the twentieth century and the monarchy became less popular, the word became a term for a small group of people who have power over the masses.





Originally meaning disabled or injured, this word underwent pejoration in the late twentieth century when young people began to use it as an adjective meaning ‘uncool’.  This is due to the negative connotations of disability being taken out of context and exaggerated. It may be said that the usage of this word followed the ‘S curve’ pattern as there was a sharp increasein its usage which has eased off in recent years





Originally the name of a particular brand of vacuum cleaner, the word underwent conversion and began to be used as a verb to make language more convenient. The noun also underwent broadening as it is now often used to desvribe any vacuum cleaner- not just the ‘hoover’ brand

Economic change




Originally meaning a collection of stalls for purchasing goods, the word underwent broadening during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. gaining the meaning of a demand for a particular product, e.g. “there is a market for…” This was an economical change encouraged by the industrial revolution which increased production of goods and therefore the economy.





Original meaning of something without covering or clothing – semantic change: new meaning of lots of/many e.g. “bare people here today” or “bare traffic”. An example of amelioration: meaning of the word has grown more positive, as opposed to being “bare” meaning it is coverless and naked, it has been semantically altered to mean lots of/many things, possibly an example of semantic reversal as it has almost become the opposite of its original meaning




Original meaning of forcing someone/raping, underwent semantic change: new meaning of a complementary phrase when describing someone’s appearance

semantic shift: sense of the word expands to greater meanings; example of a contronym: a word which has undertaken a similar process to semantic reversal but has also retained its original meaning, people still use both actively





Originally an Irish surname which was anglicized from the Gaelic version “O Scolaidhe”, which means “descendant of the scholar”

semantic change: new meaning of a person, usually male, who is a miscreant, irresponsible and self-assured. It was also a term for a Liverpudlian youth.

example of pejoration: meaning of the word has grown more negative with time, idea people seem more likely to drag words down and create more negative definitions than to ameliorate them





In the past, “hot” used to refer to temperature, or the high heat of an object or a person. However, over time, the meaning has broadened, and now the word has multiple meanings. The word “hot” now often also refers to someone who is physically attractive.
This word has undergone broadening because it is clear some people started using the word “hot” to refer to physical attractiveness and it just spread around more and got more popular.




This word used to refer to something meaning “evil”, for example when people said “wicked witch”. Over time it has undergone semantic shift, and has changed meaning. Nowadays, “wicked” can mean, in a colloquial context “brilliant”, or something being very good. The word has undergone amelioration, meaning that the word has semantically changed and improved in meaning.




This word used to refer to a young person, of either gender. ‘Narrowing’ is where a word with a general meaning changes and means something and is applied to something much more specific. Overtime, through narrowing, this word now refers to what would have before been just one example of what it referred to, and now only means a female young person, rather than either male or female.




This word used to refer to something being “stupid” or “foolish”, and in the dictionary the word “nice” referred to stupidity in the late 13th century but over time has semantically changed and now means something that is pleasant. This word has undergone amelioration, because at first it referred to stupidity or foolishness, but has upgraded and changed into meaning something positive, and this word has overtime been used more often and the word has completely changed in meaning.




This word used to mean something or someone was a coward, or cowardice. Over time, the word “brave” has practically turned completely opposite in meaning, and has semantically changed to mean the complete opposite. Again, this word has undergone amelioration which means that the word has semantically changed and has ‘improved’ in meaning, because it has changed to mean something much better that it once referred to. This will have happened due to the population gradually using the word more and more often, and people picking up the new meaning, and so now the meaning has completely changed.




The word ‘naughty’ at one time had the same meaning as ‘bad,’ however, that meaning has now completely changed. Naughty today means something mischievous whilst also still being socially acceptable. This new use of the word ‘naughty’ is highlighted by shop owner’s use of the word. For example in shop names such as ‘naughty but nice’ etc. despite the word naughty coming from a Middle English word meaning ‘evil and wicked.’ During the 16th century naughty was used to mean “unhealthy, unpleasant, bad (with respect to weather), vicious (of an animal), inferior, or bad in quality.” All of these senses have disappeared, however, and naughty is now used mainly in contexts involving mischief or indecency. Other words that have very limited meaning and are ‘empty’ include the word ‘wuss,’ which the urban dictionary describes as someone who is ‘physically weak and ineffectual.’




The word ‘snack’ started out as a verb in the 1300s, possibly from Middle Dutch. As a verb, it meant “to bite or snap at.’’ Within a century, it was being used as a noun as well. The word even spread back from a noun to a verb, creating the verb to snack. So our common modern usage of to snack is a verb that came from a noun that came from a different noun, which came from a verb that is almost completely out of the English language. This cycle has also occurred with many other words, especially technology associated words. For example, ‘Facebook’ ‘Twitter’ and ‘Tumbler’ are also nouns that can also be used as verbs. This is most likely because of our internet obsessed culture, in which technology plays such a large part in our lives.




Generalisation has occurred in many words e.g. ‘pants’ ‘place’ specialization has occurred in the case of other words e.g. ‘affection’ to mean emotion, ‘forest’ to mean countryside. Some words have taken completely opposite meanings, possibly because of the changes in our society and the way we live today. For example, at one point the word ‘artificial’ meant ‘full of artistic or technical skill’. Now, however, it means fake/copied/stereotypical. This major change has also occurred with the word ‘nice’ that came from the Latin ‘not to know’ and ignorant. This word’s meaning, too has taken a completely opposite meaning. Finally, the word ‘awful’ used to mean ‘full of awe’ i.e. something wonderful, delightful, amazing now, it means the total opposite. These changes may have occurred because of over use of the words or perhaps misuse or misunderstanding of the words.




The original meaning of the term “gay” is referred to someone who is happy and cheery. However, the meaning of the word has changed to describe someone who is romantically interested in a person of the same sex as them. It is also commonly used in the younger generation to describe someone who can be a fool. Mainly used as a term of offence.  “Oh, you’re so gay!” The fact that the younger generation commonly use this term, although not using the correct meaning shows there has been a change in language.




The original meaning is to slow someone down and hold them back. It is now commonly used again as a term of offence towards someone who is slow, or slightly stupid. Often used in the younger generation and between teenagers when joking, again it shows language has changed over time as it is not commonly used between the older generation.




The word cool used to mean something that was of a low temperature and was later used to describe something that is fun and exciting or interesting. Again, usually used within the younger generation, associated with “safe” “sick” and “razz” it is used between youngsters to describe something they really like. Before the word cool there was nothing to describe something that was interesting and keeping up with the increasing use of slang words such as safe and sick etc. Used between teenagers, the words main denotation has completely changed over time.




This is a new word which is a blend of frozen and cappuccino (ironically!), and it is now used widely in coffee shops all over the world. It is easier to say than frozen cappuccino/coffee, but now is used to describe a generally frozen drink from a coffee shop. It is mainly used by the younger generation of coffee drinkers, and the term spread fairly quickly. The word cappuccino was originally borrowed from the Italians, along with various other food or beverages words we now use, such as pizza or pasta.




This word has semantically changed over time. It originally meant bad, or had similar negative meaning. Now the word means good or similar positive meanings. It is used my mainly youthful people, to describe something they would consider as ‘cool’ or good. About 10 years ago this word became trendy for youthful people to say, now it is slightly out of date but many people still say this as an adjective. People may associate this word as lower class and the people that use it may be considered uneducated in some parts of the country. The new meaning spread fairly quickly, but not so much with the older generation. They may often use the original meaning of the word still, confusing some younger generations. This highlights how the youth of today enjoy creating new words and keeping on trend with their vocabularies.




This word has semantically changed too, although it still widely known as its original meaning. Among the young generation it now means good, or cool. However the elder generation, and still youths use the meaning of to keep something safe, away from danger. People may associate this word as lower class and the people that use it may be considered uneducated in some parts of the country. The new meaning spread fairly quickly, but not so much with the older generation. They may often use the original meaning of the word still, confusing some younger generations. This highlights how the youth of today enjoy creating new words and keeping on trend with their vocabularies. Similar words are ‘sick’ ‘heavy’ and ‘wicked’ which are popular among youths.




This has come from the verb ‘to buzz’, originally connotating with the sound of a bee or wasp. Now this is used widely by youths to describe a feeling of excitement or enjoyment. It can also be used in a way or eagerness for something stating, “I am buzzing for it”. People may associate this word as lower class and the people that use it may be considered uneducated in some parts of the country. The new meaning spread fairly quickly, but not so much with the older generation. They may often use the original meaning of the word still, confusing some younger generations. This highlights how the youth of today enjoy creating new words and keeping on trend with their vocabularies. There aren’t any similar words really, and it is more likely for youths to semantically change adjectives, unlike in this case, a verb.




This word still keeps its meaning of somebody feeling unwell, or sick. However now it is used to describe an event or object for youths. It is however very looked down upon by adults, and even most youths as it is considered very lower class and ‘chavvy’. This word hasn’t really caught on and has not spread very much. Youths throughout the country are definitely aware of the word but some refuse to use it, and when they do it is in a mocking manner.  When the word was at its peak it was around 5 years ago, but is now slowly dying out. Again this shows youths attempt to take over language and create new words to suit their society.





An example of semantic change, faggot used to mean “a tied bundle of sticks or twigs” although this meaning is little known in this society due to the more often associated derogatory term for a homosexual. Because of this new found meaning, this term is now primarily associated with homosexuals. This is usual in that when words become associated to sexual activity, the sharp narrowing means this new sexual connotation rises above all others. This could be a repercussion of a sex-obsessed society in that more and more words are required since we talk about sex even more.




Broadening: This word originally means a long deep cut but nowadays people use it as a derogatory term to females and because of this, gash is rarely used to refer to a cut. Although this word has not caught on regarding its reference to females, this could be because it is an unpleasant word and perhaps it is common knowledge that there are already far more derogatory terms used for women than men.




Originally meaning a fine cord of fibrous material such as cotton or flax.

However its meaning has now broadened to mean the topic of conversation on an internet website or forum – a number of messages posted about the same topic in the same section of the website. This is a common phenomenon in our society; as new technology comes along, new words are invented or existing words undergo a semantic shift to suit the new word. This has led to a whole spate of new words to do with technology or inventions, such as “surf” meaning to change between channels or browse internet websites, and even some words undergo conversion such as the noun ‘bookmark’ which becomes the verb ‘to bookmark’ (meaning to save the link to a website) and thus takes on an entirely different meaning to do with technology. This also provides examples for the Theory of Lexical Gaps, as new words are invented when needed to keep up with technology. This is an example of how the internet can cause words to change rapidly – language change is extremely fast when it involves the internet.




The acronym derives from ‘value added tax’, a 17 and a half percent consumption tax on most products, passed onto the consumer.

This is an example of how phrases or long names for something are often shortened by an acronym to make them easier to use in everyday conversation.  It makes our language more economical and so is occurring in many places where acronyms or even initialisms are brought into everyday use, such as ‘BBC’ instead of ‘British Broadcasting Company’, simply because they are easier or quicker to say. This shows how language often changes to make names easier to remember or to suit the needs of the audience as it is so widely used.

This brings up the question: are we just lazy? – the ‘dirty spoon’ theory. This opens an entire can of worms to do with language and laziness – (as discussed in class!) – such as between those who pronounce the ‘r’ in ‘bar’ and those who don’t – which asks if we are lazy or simply if our language is changing to fit the time.




This is a blending of ‘jeans’ and ‘leggings’, which are close fitting, stretchy trousers that are designed to look like denim jeans. As fashion is constantly changing, people have to come up new words to suit the new changes in fashion. Similarly, ‘miniskirt’ and ‘nylon’ (though originally for parachutes!) came about because of fashion. These words are invented by fashionable retailers or designers, and then branded as the word, and so the words are more and more widely used by the public. Fashion and language constantly change – all languages change just as fashions change. In fact, aspects of language go in and out of fashion. Words undergo semantic shift among younger people, such as ‘sick’ and ‘safe’. These words replaced ‘cool’ as it went out of fashion, and now they in turn have gone out of fashion as new words replace them.




The word pimp originally referred to a someone who found and managed clients for prostitutes and engages them in prostitution, taking a cut of their earnings, often running brothels but sometimes street prostitution. Thanks to the television programme ‘Pimp My Ride’, the meaning has broadened, as it now also means to renovate a car, making it fashionable and/or flashy. This has broadened again to simply mean ‘to make more glamorous’. This is a media-led change, and these changes are getting more and more prevalent. The media is fast-moving and so is their language – and its effects on everyday language. Look at the use of ‘SuBo’ instead of Susan Boyle (questioning our laziness as it is so much easier to say!) and also look at the use of ‘gate’ when referring to a political scandal. This is from the original Watergate scandal, and now most political scandals take the suffix ‘-gate’ meaning scandal. Lately this has begun to apply to other scandals, such as ‘Sachs-gate’.




Meaning ‘unbiased’ or ‘not involved’. Disinterested has undergone perjoration as many assume that it means ‘uninterested’. People didn’t realise what it actually meant and so it was assumed that it meant the opposite of ‘interested’, forgetting about the word ‘uninterested.’ This could course problems of confusion – which can also be caused by the semantic shift of fashionable words, like ‘sick’ and ‘safe’. Their meanings have changed and so it could be unclear as to which meaning is being referred to. However semantic shift is a part of language change, which means that it is difficult to stop new words taking root.





The original definition of this word is ‘a collection of things wrapped or boxed together i.e. parcel.’ It would be used for objects being placed together in a container. More recently, it is often used by women who tend to talk more discretely about men’s genitals e.g. “check out his package.” The semantics of the word are still fairly similar, as the object is compact, for example, under male’s trousers and inside a box. But the connotations of the word are different as the more recent meaning suggests rudeness and could be found quite offensive, whereas the original meaning could be used by anyone. This change is a conversion and has come about as sexual awareness is more open in the media and in the general public, so people aren’t embarrassed to talk about it.




The definition of this word is ‘a cardinal point of the compass, 90° to the left when facing north, corresponding to the point where the sun is seen to set.’ It would be used in a context where direction is needed or explained. It is now a slang adjective used by youths, and seemed to have come about from people who tend to smoke cannabis. The meaning now is to describe something abnormal, weird or a bizarre situation e.g. “that dog looks west.” This change is a conversion as the semantics are completely different and has been quickly passed on to the teenage generation.




The general meaning of this word is ‘a cylindrical container used for holding or carrying liquids or solids e.g. paint.’ It used to be just an object but more recently as women are more openly provocative; it is a rude term and is used negatively to relate to a woman who has a lot of sexual relations with many men e.g. “she sleeps around, she’s got a bucket”.  The semantics of the conversion are similar as the opening is wide but the context is completely different.




One Response

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  1. Mia said, on November 13, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    I really like this blog, thank you for the awesome posts. This is one of my favourites, since I find the origins of words, and how words are like what they are today. I have a quick question, or more of a general wonderingment: how did extra – ordinary become a word, since ordinary means normal, whereas extra – ordinary means weird. Does it mean to say that when something is too ordinary that it cannot be believeable?

    Sorry about the random query…

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