Semantics and Lexicon Semantic Changes

Some Directions of Semantic Change


It's no surprise that the meaning of words change over time, but many of those changes follow regular patterns that can be described. Print this page, and study the table below, then apply what you learn to the following exercise. You will need to use the OED or another reliable dictionary to guide you. When you're finished, take the completed exercise to your next section.

NAME OF CHANGE EXAMPLE   OLD DEFINITION DIRECTION
OF CHANGE
SPECIALIZATION deer once meant wild animal, game animal more specific, a narrowing of the semantic range
GENERALIZATION thing once meant legal matter more general, a broadening of the semantic range
PEJORATION silly once meant happy, simple, innocent worsening
of the social connotations
AMELIORATION knight once meant boy bettering
of the social connotations


Look up the words below in a dictionary and, by referring to the table above, fill in the kind of change each one has undergone over the years.


meat ____________________________________________

mistress ____________________________________________

churl ____________________________________________

glamour ____________________________________________

fond ____________________________________________

yelp ____________________________________________

business ____________________________________________

swipe (with a plastic card) ________________________________________

science ____________________________________________

to sail ____________________________________________

rascal ____________________________________________

hunk ____________________________________________

liberal ____________________________________________

impertinent
____________________________________________