Types of semantic change


1. Widening/Extension

=> range of meanings of a word increases so that the word can be used in more contexts than were appropriate before the change

-dog =>1) specific powerful breed of dog => all breeds or races of dog

-cupboard => 1) table upon which cups or vessels were placed, a piece of furniture to display plates  => closet or cabin with shelves for the keeping cups and dishes =>AE: small storage cabinet


2. Narrowing (specialisation, restriction)

=> range of meaning is decreased so that a word can be used appropriately only in fewer contexts than before the change

*meat => 'food' in general ;

*hound => OE hund 'dog in general' => species of dog (long eared hunting dog) ;

*wife => OE 'woman' =>'woman of humble rank  or low employment' => 'married woman,  spouse'   

*girl => ME 'child or young person of either sex' =>'female child, young woman'


3. Metaphor

-involves relationship of perceived similarity

*root (of plant) => > root of plant, root of word, root in algebra, source

*stud => 'good-looking sexy man '(of slang origin) derived from stud 'a male animal used for breeding

*chill => "relax, calm down' of slang origin, original 'to cool'


4. Metonymy

-inclusion of additional senses which were originally not present but which are closely associated with word's original meaning

-tea => 'drink' => 'evening meal accompanied by drinking tea';

cheek 'fleshy side of the face below the eye' < OE: cēace ' jaw, jawbone'


5. Synecdoche

-kind of metonymy, involves part-to-whole relationship

-hand 'hired hand, employed worker';

tongue  'language'


6. Degeneration / Pejoration

-sense of a word takes on a less positive, more negative evaluation in the minds of the users

- knave 'a rogue'  < OE: cnafa ' a youth, a child' > 'servant' ;

-spinster 'unmarried woman' < 'one who spins' ;

-silly 'foolish, stupid'  < ME sely 'happy, innocent' < OE sælig ''blessed, blissful'

-disease 'illness' < 'discomfort' (cf. dis+ease)


7. Elevation /Amelioration

-shifts in the sense of a word in the direction towards a more positive value in the minds of the users

-pretty < OE: prættig 'crafty, sly'

-knight 'mounted warrior serving a king' 'lesser nobility' < OE cniht 'boy, servant' >'servant' > 'military servant';

dude 'guy, person' < in 1883 a word of ridicule for 'man who affects an exaggerated fastidiousness in dress, speech and deportment', a dandy'


8. Taboo replacement and avoidance of obscenity

-ass 'long-eared animal related to a horse' => donkey;

-cock 'adult male chicken' => rooster,

-bloody nose => blood nose/bleeding nose

-toilet : WC, bathroom, lavatory, restroom, loo, john


9. Hyperbole

-shift in meaning due to exaggeration by overstatement

-terribly, horribly, awfully   'very'


10. Litotes

- exaggeration by understatement