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Words that have extended their meanings

Oct 19, 2012

Over time, language changes and evolves. When the meaning of a word changes or evolves, and there is sufficient evidence to support this new meaning, it is the dictionary’s duty to record it. If you look in a dictionary at any entry with more than one definition, you are probably looking at a word which, through use over time, has developed meanings beyond its original sense.

Here is a list of some examples of words where the meaning has changed beyond the original sense. This list is by no means exhaustive.

agenda

noun 1. a program or list of things to be done, discussed, etc. 2. a list of matters to be brought before a committee, council, board, etc., as things to be done. 3. a set of motivating factors: he has an entirely different agenda to the others on the committeethere is a political agenda behind the recent grant to the farmers. –phrase 4. set the agenda, to decide what direction a group will take, as in politics, business, etc. [Latin, neuter plural of gerundive of agere do]  Usage: The word is in origin a Latin plural, meaning `things to be done', but is regularly used as a singular in English (the agenda is quite short) and with the English plural -s (we can't have two agendas for one meeting).

decimate

verb (t) (decimateddecimating1. to destroy a significant number or proportion of. 2. to wipe out almost entirely: the industry was decimated. 3. (in the ancient Roman army) to select by lot and kill every tenth soldier of (a body of soldiers) as a punishment.4.  Obsolete to take a tenth of or from. [Latin decimātus, past participle]  Usage: Originally this word referred to the killing of one in ten, and by extension to the destruction of some part of the whole. It is now frequently used to refer to almost total destruction, but despite the weight of corpus evidence in favour of this shift in meaning, some writers still do not accept it.

gay

adjective (gayergayest1. (especially of a male) homosexual. 2. of, relating to, or for homosexuals: gay rightsa gay bar. 3.  Colloquial (mildly derogatory) odd; eccentric.4.  Colloquial unfashionable; unstylish: that bag is really gay. 5.  Colloquial irritating; annoying: his fooling around is so gay. 6. having or showing a joyous mood: gay spiritsgay musicgay scenes. 7. bright or showy: gay coloursgay flowersgay ornaments.8. characterised by social or other pleasures: a gay life. 9.  Obsolete dissipated; licentious. –noun 10. a homosexual, especially male. [Middle English, from Old French gai, of Germanic origin; defs 1, 4, 6–10: originally homosexual slang, from the earlier sense: living by prostitution, a development of def. 9; def. 4: from def.1 as a derogatory term, originally among schoolchildren]  –gaynessnoun Usage: The meaning `homosexual' which has become current in mainstream English since the 1950s is now so established that the more traditional meanings (defs 6–8) are now used less often. Many writers avoid using the word in these senses because of the possibility of confusion and because they are becoming dated.

Nazi

noun (plural Nazis1. a member of the National Socialist German Workers' party, which was founded in 1919 and which in 1933, under Adolf Hitler, obtained political control of Germany; it established a dictatorship on the principles of control over all cultural, economic, and political activities of the people, belief in the supremacy of Hitler as Führer, anti-Semitism, and the establishment of Germany as a dominant world power. 2. (often lower case) someone who believes in or sympathises with policies characteristic of this party.3. (often lower caseColloquial a. someone who is extremely domineering and unwilling to compromise. b.  (with a modifier) someone who displays a dictatorial attitude about how people should think or behave with regard to a particular topic or thing: a kitchen Nazi.adjective 4. of or relating to Nazis. [German colloquial, fromNa(tionalso)zi(alist) National Socialist] 

troll 

verb (t1. to fish by trolling. 2. to move (the line or bait) in doing this. 3. to cause to turn round and round; roll. 4.  Obsolete to pass from one to another, as a bowl of drink at table.5.  Obsolete to sing or utter in a full, rolling voice. 6.  Obsolete to sing in the manner of a round or catch. –verb (i7. to fish with a moving line, as one worked up and down in fishing for pike with a rod, or one trailed behind a boat. 8.  Internet to behave in the manner of a troll (def. 16A). 9.  Obsolete to roll; turn round and round. 10.  Obsolete to sing with a full, rolling voice; give forth full, rolling tones. 11.  Obsolete to be uttered or sounded in such tones. 12.  Obsolete to move nimbly, as the tongue in speaking. –noun 13. the act of trolling. 14. a lure used in trolling for fish. 15. the fishing line containing the lure and hook for use in trolling. 16.  Internet a. someone who, protected by online anonymity, posts messages in a discussion forum, chat room, etc., which are designed to disrupt the normal flow of communication by being inflammatory or puzzling. b. such a message.17.  Obsolete a song whose parts are sung in succession; a round. [Middle English trollen roll, stroll, from Old French troller, from Middle High Germantrollen; def. 16 variant of TRAWL, from the notion that originally people in a chat room identified newbies by asking questions that only a newbie would take seriously]  –trollernoun

viral 

adjective 1. relating to or caused by a virus. 2. increasing rapidly in numbers or effect in a way that is reminiscent of a virus. –phrase 3. go viral, to be disseminated rapidly and widely as one person alerts another in an ever-widening circle, especially using the internet

 

For further reading:

Miso Soup | David Astle 

 


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