Part of the reason we keep inventing new words, I think, is that we keep demoting the ones we’ve got, and then we have nothing left to cover the real extremes. Originally, incredible meant ‘beyond belief’ (credible being ‘believable’, the prefix -in showing the negative), but now, we use incredible for anything from a new type of technology to that outfit you wore last night. The technology might be ‘beyond belief’, but I’m guessing the outfit probably wasn’t, not really. So we have to come up with more and more extravagant ways of saying what we mean. It’s certainly fun, but not without its problems, especially for learners, who may find themselves saying something other than what they intended. Have you or your students had any funny experiences with ‘demoted’ words?Email this Post
For me, demoted words are only usually demoted – there are times when they still have their specific, strong, old meaning. And those times are simply when the speaker seems to be someone who would use the old meaning.
The older, more educated, and more multilingual you are, the more I’m going to take your meanings as not yet demoted. So when Christopher Hitchens describes something as “wicked,” I instantly know what he means, even though I would never hear someone mean it that way in my daily life.
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