• Margaret

    I think that what all these words have in common is that generally the successive "cool" leaders of each generation of teens and college kids adopted each of them (at different times) as an ironic "in" term of approval to show their approval of whatever was important or cool to them at the time, and that their respective parents and other elders would not necessarily interpret the same way. "Awesome" used this way came out of "Valley Girl speak" when my daughter was a teen, and some of these uses date back to my teen years. Of course they couldn't use "cool" anymore, because it was so 60s. "Rad" (for radical) was in back in the 80s. I have no idea what word my grandkids will adopt to express their generation's collective approval 10 years from now!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/swfreeman Suzannah


      You're right about teens changing our language. Who would have ever thought that "sick" and "bad" would be "good" one day? I always laugh when I hear a kid say, "Your skateboard is sick!" or something like that. It just sounds so gross to me.

      Thanks for your thoughts on the subject!

  • http://readinnwritin.blogspot.com PatriciaW

    The beautiful–and terrible–thing about the English language is that it's an ever-changing entity. Words, over time, take on new meanings. That doesn't negate the original meaning, but it certainly might muddy up the general understanding (and screw up kids on standardized tests, assuming the tests get it right).

    But this is a thought-provoking post. Thanks!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/swfreeman Suzannah


      You make a good point about standardized tests and assuming the tests get it right. I've taught in classrooms as a substitute where the kids are being taught grammar rules in the wrong way because their teachers don't know how to do it correctly. That's not a slight on the teachers, but it goes to show that what we were taught in school isn't always correct! Teachers and tests aren't infallible, and every country seems to have its own rules, which can make things confusing.

      I think you're spot on when you say the new meanings don't negate the original, but they muddy the general understanding.

      Thank you!

  • http://bakerybookery.blogspot.com Georgia

    "Awful" is another word that I think has changed a lot in meaning/ usage a lot over the generations. Its original meaning was similar to awesome, as in something inspired you to be full of awe. Now though it only seems to have negative connotations, as in "the hotel room was simply awful."

    I'm sure there are many many more but this one in particular I can remember my Mum nitpicking about an awful lot!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/swfreeman Suzannah


      You're right, awful is another one. There must be hundreds of them. I found a few other posts on the internet about words that have changed their meanings, but for some reason none of them used the ones I talked about here. I remember seeing 'awful' on one of those.

  • http://www.puppetkaos.com Kelvin Kao

    Hm, maybe it's because we are such positive people that we need lots of different ways of saying "very good". I've heard many of these on Power Rangers. When they defeat a monster, they all take turns (usually there are five of them) shouting out something like "awesome!" Without all these different ways of saying "very good", they would be having a hard time!

    At least these are not as bad as "literally". :-)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/swfreeman Suzannah


      Ha ha —literally. That's an annoying one, for sure. Although, I think "literally" is just misunderstood more than it's meaning has changed. Same with "ironic." And I agree with you that those Power Rangers would be quite boring if all they said was "very good!" Thanks!

  • Ric

    Neat! I will certainly stop and think a little more before I speak. Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/swfreeman Suzannah

      Thank you, glad you found it so!

  • http://artofgreatthings.com Jeffrey Tang

    I can see how many of these words could have changed over time simply through misuse. Even when the meaning of a word has changed significantly, it's not difficult to make a slantwise logical connection between the before and after.

    This being a post about words and writing, I'm going to be a bit of a nazi and point out that "It's original meaning" ought to be "Its original meaning." ;-)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/swfreeman Suzannah

      Ha ha, sorry Jeffrey. I actually copied and pasted all the sub-headers under each section, so I PROMISE I only made that mistake once :) Thanks for drawing it to my attention. Must be pregnancy brain getting to me or something.


  • http://www.bethlgainer.blogspot.com Beth L. Gainer

    Hi Suzannah,

    I agree that the meaning of many words in the English language have changed over time, but that's the natural course of any living language. If our words never changed meanings, and if there were no additions to our vocabulary, then the language would be dying. I don't really have a problem with the changing meaning of words.

    A dramatic example is the word "gay," which initially meant happy. Now that definition is archaic, as it should be.

    A living language should change with the times. That being said, I don't think people should use slang in professional settings.

    Thank you for a thought-provoking post; I love your blogs.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/swfreeman Suzannah


      I'm pretty much of the same opinion as you. It doesn't really bother me that language is changing except if it causes people to be ignorant of the kind of formal language necessary for business or work, or other formal writing.

      Thank you for your thoughts!

  • Pingback: 6 Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean | Learn English Related Pages()

  • Jc

    this is all-very good-
    guess that’s why French was used in diplomacy and treaties.

  • http://luridtalesofdoom.wordpress.com/ Elmo

    Suzannah, I fear I would irritate any prescriptivist tendencies you have. My friends and I have taken to using any word in the place of an adjective and just relying on context to get the meaning across. Consequently something that is impressive can be ‘weapon’, an attractive girl can be a ‘consummate professional’, general craziness is ‘absolutely pears’ and something that’s unjust is ‘kubricked’ – partly a post-modern attempt to surpass the consensus of meaning, mostly just a way to wind up my best mate’s copy-editor wife.

    It’s surprisingly easy to understand each other doing this, even if it does all sound a bit ceramic. ;)

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