Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Word Meanings Change

Originally posted on March 27, 2015

The word, “mysticism” has changed over time, from something weird and magical and ultimately superstitious to an underlying set of assumptions woven into story form, the way Joseph Campbell has re-worked the word and the field in the mid-late 20th Century. The word “gay” has similarly changed meaning, from carefree to homosexual. Yet many people have come to believe that words mean things in a definite fashion. Disabusing them of this idea has been difficult.

So it was delight that I discovered a book by Sol Steinmetz titles Semantic Antics, subtitled How and why words change meaning (2008, New York: Random House). Hundreds of words are traced, words that meant one thing centuries ago, and now mean something quite different. Meaning is thus revealed as a shifting dynamic.

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