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Words that have changed their meaning over time.

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Bat-mite

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I was thinking about words that have had their meaning changed over time, usually due to misuse by the public. I thought of a few, but I'm sure others can come up with more.

Nauseous - originally meant "causing nausea." For example, "The morgue had a nauseous smell." Has come to mean the same thing as nauseated, or feeling nausea. For example, "I've been feeling nauseous since I ate that canned salmon."

Inflammable - originally meant "able to be inflamed, combustible." Now in disuse, replaced by flammable. Apparently many people thought that the "in-" was a prefix meaning not. Since it was dangerous to think that something inflammable was not inflammable, the in- was dropped.

Moot - originally meant "worthy of debate, discussion, or argument." Now it has taken on the exact opposite meaning, so that when a point is moot, it is not worthy of discussion.

Tolerance - originally meant "capacity to endure." For example, "I can tolerate 120-dgree desert heat; I can only tolerate so much gore before I get nauseated." Has come to mean "a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one's own."

This morning I thought of another one, but my old brain can't find it right now. If I do, I will post it.
 

mpitfield

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Nice - used to mean silly, foolish, simple. Not the compliment it is today!
Naughty - if you were naughty, you had naught or nothing. Then it came to mean evil or immoral, and now you are just badly behaved.
 

Bat-mite

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I have found long lists of words that have radically changed their meanings over centuries. I guess I was thinking more of "in my life time." Yes, gay (happy), queer (unusual), fag (cigarette) and faggot (fire log) are on that list for sure.
 

Daddyisabar

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Watch some old 1930's movies: A straight G man to his favorite broad: "Gee you're a swell Dame, give me one of your fags and we will have a gay old time." DON"T say anything like this today! The language and slang change rapidly. BLING is an now an official word.
 

Bat-mite

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I remember seeing Ellen DeGeneris a few years ago on her show, around Christmas time. The studio was playing "Deck the Halls," and she stopped it part way through. She said something like, "Wow, maybe we shouldn't sing this song any more. 'Don we now our gay apparel' clearly has a word in it that is very confusing to people today. I mean, "don?" Who says that? Shouldn't it be, 'Put we on our gay apparel?' " :grin:
 

Nathan

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Watering Hole - used to mean place to go to get a drink of water for your horse. Now it means place to go for useless information on a forum.
 

Larry Curcio

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Nauseous - originally meant "causing nausea." For example, "The morgue had a nauseous smell." Has come to mean the same thing as nauseated, or feeling nausea. For example, "I've been feeling nauseous since I ate that canned salmon."
I've always been warned of this. Happens the only place I've ever seen the word used in its original context was in the book Dracula.

How about Comprise which, in English, means To embrace. Thus (to borrow E.B. White's example) a zoo comprises animals. In American, the word can mean the opposite. (It's said to be confused with Compose). Thus animals comprise a zoo - or a zoo is comprised (composed) of animals.

How about a slang example? The word Uptight was originally intended to mean stowed away or secure - as in the song Everything is all right uptight, outa sight. Now it means anxious, angry, or tense.
 

boatgeek

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Inflammable - originally meant "able to be inflamed, combustible." Now in disuse, replaced by flammable. Apparently many people thought that the "in-" was a prefix meaning not. Since it was dangerous to think that something inflammable was not inflammable, the in- was dropped.
You still see "Highly Inflammable" on gasoline trucks in some of the former British colonies, and the international marine safety treaty specifically defines inflammable as being the same thing as flammable.
 

dr wogz

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"When I 'm good I'm great. But when I'm bad, I'm better!" Mae west.

So, bad in a bad way, or a bad in a good way?!

So 'Bad-ass' is super, and bad is good, and bad is , well, still bad..

BPS used to be a baud rate, not a bit rate..
 

tomsteve

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[video=youtube_share;WPGvKwggtl0]https://youtu.be/WPGvKwggtl0[/video]
 

FredA

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"High" power .... I remember when the "Mighty-D" was as high as you could buy......
 

Marc_G

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When I was a lad in grade school in the '70s, I was taught that gender was an attribute I possessed, and that sex was an act I should not do until later. At the time, if a form wanted to know if I was male or female, it would ask my gender.

Now, the term sex has morphed to be a replacement for gender on forms and in speech as well. It's a pet peeve of mine.

Hey you kids, get off my lawn!
 

Zeus-cat

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When I was a lad in grade school in the '70s, I was taught that gender was an attribute I possessed, and that sex was an act I should not do until later. At the time, if a form wanted to know if I was male or female, it would ask my gender.

Now, the term sex has morphed to be a replacement for gender on forms and in speech as well. It's a pet peeve of mine.

Hey you kids, get off my lawn!
Maybe this is how the meaning of words change; people just get lazy or confused with proper usage. I agree with you that gender is the better word to use.

Another one is nationality. I am a U.S. citizen; that's my nationality. Now my heritage is Dutch (father's side) and Polish (mother's side). I suppose you could argue that I am only 1/4th Polish with the other 1/4th being German. You see, my grandfather was born during one of those times when the Germans were... ahem, "visiting" Poland as they seem to do every 20 or 30 years.
 

Larry Curcio

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The word, Napkin, used to mean diaper. Today, in America, it can be either a serviette, or a sanitary napkin.
Nevertheless, if you ask for one at the dinner table, people usually know what to pass you.

I'm told that in Ireland, Napkin does not mean Serviette. Watch yourself!
 

Bat-mite

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Maybe this is how the meaning of words change; people just get lazy or confused with proper usage. I agree with you that gender is the better word to use.

Another one is nationality. I am a U.S. citizen; that's my nationality. Now my heritage is Dutch (father's side) and Polish (mother's side). I suppose you could argue that I am only 1/4th Polish with the other 1/4th being German. You see, my grandfather was born during one of those times when the Germans were... ahem, "visiting" Poland as they seem to do every 20 or 30 years.
I wish we could come up with a good, politically correct system, not offense to anyone, but accurate for all, way of distinguishing races. Take "Native American." I have known "Native Americans" who don't like that phrase because they don't like being called "American," and would prefer to be called "Indians."

Also, "African-American." Most "African" Americans have never been to Africa and have no ties to it; but if you are black, you are an African-American. But some people that I befriended who were born and raised in South Africa and moved to the US are not "African-Americans" because they are white. :confused:

Then there are "Asian-Americans." This, as far as I can tell, refers only to East Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Indochinese, Korean, etc.). But Asia is HUGE. Why aren't Israelis Asian-Americans? Or Turks? Or Russians who live in the Asian part of Russia?

I recently used the term Oriental, and was told by my wife that this is now an insult, and I should not use it. How did that happen? "Oriental" simply means "from the east." Am I supposed to be offended if someone refers to me as Occidental?
 

Marc_G

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The word, Napkin, used to mean diaper. Today, in America, it can be either a serviette, or a sanitary napkin.
Nevertheless, if you ask for one at the dinner table, people usually know what to pass you.

I'm told that in Ireland, Napkin does not mean Serviette. Watch yourself!
I ran afoul of this back in the 90s. I worked in a lab with many folks from various countries. A new lab member woman from Ireland was seated next to me at a welcome dinner. I spilled some of my drink and asked to use her napkin. She shrieked "WOT?" as to her I was asking something very different from my intent. We eventually had a good laugh about it.
 

Bat-mite

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I seem to remember a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up bit in which he went to England, and woman told him to come by the hotel and knock her up around seven. Apparently, "to knock up," in England, means to knock on the door. :wink:
 

Kirk G

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Fag - Use to refer to a cigarette.
Gay - Use to refer having a great time, or the place to be.
Learned from watching Turner Classic Movies.

Another recent point learned from Classic Movies.... Remember when characters used to state, "I'm Free, White and 21"? The expression used to mean that one was independent and adult...able to make there own choices.
However, it's been pointed out that it is extremely racist and sexist as well!
 

Tronman

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Oops, that was inappropriate. I thought I was on a different forum! :eek:
 

Larry Curcio

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The term, Accost, used to mean To Greet First. In this sense, if we see each other on the street, and you say Hello, you have accosted me. You'll find the word used this way in The King James Bible.

The term became unpopular with the general public, but police detectives continued to use it in their descriptions of crimes – many of which begin with a perpetrator accosting a victim. Thus, through the years, it has evolved to mean Confront. Sometimes, it’s even confused with the word, Molest, so it’s probably still evolving.


Larry (Sorry. My mother was frightened by an English teacher, and I was subsequently frightened by several more.) C.
 
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Larry Curcio

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Incredible used to mean Not Believable. It was used hyperbolically so frequently that few people still use it in its literal sense. Indeed, I have seen social-science (such as it is) papers that use the term Non-Credible to convey the original meaning of Incredible.

The word, Fantastic, used to mean Taken From Fantasy or not real. Now it means… Incredible.

So, in theory, if you assert that something is fantastic and incredible, you could be complimenting it or dismissing it.


-Larry (Yes. Those English teachers did tell me not to use the passive voice. Nobody knows why.) C.
 
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Larry Curcio

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The word, Despise, used to mean (and should still mean) Have Contempt For. The associated noun is Despite, a shortened form of which is Spite. It’s now supposed to mean Hate Only More So. That also implies a change of meaning for Hate, which is to anger, as mad and passionate love is to lust. There is really no more intense form of Hate.

The word, Loathe, is used in a similar way, though loathing used to mean Intense Disgust.
 

Tin Man

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During WWII the term "Good enough for government work" meant it was of the highest quality. After most of the work done for the government was going to the war effort and nobody wanted shoddy materials going to the boys overseas. Now it simply means something is just barely good enough to get by. And it took less than 50 years for this one to torn around!!!
 
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