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Connotations and Denotations

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  • Connotations and Denotations

    Connotations and Denotations

    The relationship between words and meanings is extremely complicated, and belongs to the field of semantics. For now, though, what you need to know is that words do not have single, simple meanings. Traditionally, grammarians have referred to the meanings of words in two parts:

    denotation = a literal meaning of the word
    connotation = an association (emotional or otherwise) which the word evokes

    For example, both "woman" and "chick" have the denotation "adult female" in North American society, but "chick" has somewhat negative connotations, while "woman" is neutral.

    For another example of connotations, consider the following:

    negative: There are over 2,000 vagrants in the city.
    neutral: There are over 2,000 people with no fixed address in the city.
    positive: There are over 2,000 homeless in the city.

    All three of these expressions refer to exactly the same people, but they will invoke different associations in the reader's mind: a "vagrant" is a public nuisance while a "homeless" person is a worthy object of pity and charity. Presumably, someone writing an editorial in support of a new shelter would use the positive form, while someone writing an editorial in support of anti-loitering laws would use the negative form.

    In this case, the dry legal expression "with no fixed address" quite deliberately avoids most of the positive or negative associations of the other two terms -- a legal specialist will try to avoid connotative language altogether when writing legislation, often resorting to archaic Latin or French terms which are not a part of ordinary spoken English, and thus, relatively free of strong emotional associations.

    Many of the most obvious changes in the English language over the past few decades have had to do with the connotations of words which refer to groups of people. Since the 1950's, words like "Negro" and "crippled" have acquired strong negative connotations, and have been replaced either by words with neutral connotations (ie "black," "handicapped") or by words with deliberately positive connotations (ie "African-Canadian," "differently-abled").

    Written by David Megginson

  • #2
    Denotation is when you mean what you say, literally. Connotation is created when you mean something else, something that might be initially hidden.


    • #3
      Denotation is the specific idea or concept that a word or lexeme refers to; connotation describes additional properties: poetic, slang, casual, colloquial, formal, humorous, legal, literary, rhetorical, cultural, etc. - assumptions, overtones, and subjective interpretation. Another way of putting it is, a word's denotation is its primary or literal significance, whereas connotation is the range of secondary significance which a word commonly suggests. Denotation is the strict dictionary meaning of a word. Connotation is the emotional and imaginative association surrounding a word. Denotation and connotation are both important in order to determine word meaning in a given context. Dictionaries are more concerned with denotations than connotations. Connotations are really only handled for offensive or vulgar terms or meanings, which are noted with labels.
      Disctioary Reference (Free information resource site) ( Helps students with essays)
      Please consider these examples: skinny, thin, and slender. These three words all mean being underweight. But the connotations differ since the suggested meanings of skinny and thin are more negative than slender, with skinny even more negative than thin.
      childlike and childish both mean characteristic of a child; however, childlike suggests innocence, meekness and wide-eyed wonder, while chidish suggests immaturity, pettiness, and willfulness.
      Enotes (free information resource for students)


      • #4
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