Hello, friends! Welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we talk about those highly specialized words scientists use. Words like:
I thought we’d do something a little different today and talk about some linguistic terms. Linguistics is a science too, right? Right. So let’s go!
- Semantic Generalization: a process of linguistic change where a word with some specific meaning ends up having a more general meaning. My favorite example is the word “escape,” which originally meant “to get out of your clothes” (ex-cape) but has since generalized to mean getting out of all sorts of things.
- Semantic Narrowing: a process of linguistic change where a word with a general meaning comes to mean something more specific. A good example is the word “meat,” which used to refer to food in general but now refers specifically to food that comes from animal flesh.
- Amelioration: a process of linguistic change where a word with a negative meaning or connotation comes to have a more positive meaning or connotation. An example of amelioration that I’ve witnessed in my own lifetime is the word “geek.” Geeks are cool now. We didn’t used to be.
- Pejoration: a process of linguistic change where a word with a positive meaning or connotation becomes more negative. A great example is the word “awful.” Originally, awful meant “worthy of awe.” But if something’s worthy of awe, it could also be worthy of fear, and that no doubt contributed to the negative meaning we know today.
When I’m researching the etymologies of scientific terms, these four linguistic processes—generalization, narrowing, amelioration, and pejoration—come up a lot. So much so that I thought I should do a post about them. Don’t be surprised if I link back to this post in future Sciency Words posts!