The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

SEMANTIC SHIFTS
When I say "gay", you know what I'm talking about. Don't you?

The first thing you'll assume is "homosexual", without giving even a thought to the older meaning of "happy". I don't care how many Christmas carols you've sung, or how many episodes of "The Flintstones" you've watched; there's practically zero chance that you stick to the old usage of the word "gay".

It's with this knowledge that I read the latest Dr. Ink column at Poynter.org. I can't believe anyone ever thought the redefinition of the word "gay" was the result of political correctness!

The best part of this column is the mind exercise given at the very end:

[ Can you think of any other words that have changed their meaning within your lifetime?]


I thought about this for a good part of the day, and I cannot come up with any. The best I could come up with are words that have taken on additional, or even ironic, meanings: "fat-phat", cell (cellular phone vs. other definitions), surf (on the Internet vs. on the waves), etc. But that's not really the same dynamic at work. Of all the comments chiming in, I think only Mary J Nelson's fit the criteria.

I'll toss it out to y'all: Can you think of any comparable instances where a word has taken a wholly new meaning, that supplanted the old one? Comment away.