Historical Development of Word Meaning – Semantic Change

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l rosary bead. Unfortunately, not all who prayed with the rosary were genuinely pious; many were like the Pharisees of old and just wanted to be seen praying - religion for them was decorative (ornamental) rather than functional. As a result, modern English gaudy gradually acquired its current meaning of tasteless or ostentatious ornamentation.related word to gaudy, which is not explicitly referenced in Suffields poem but is implied, is bead (in the poem, bedead is probably an anagrammatic play on beaded). In Middle English times, bead (then spelled bede) referred only to a rosary bead. Middle English bede was itself descended from Old English gebed, prayer. The phrase telling ones beads was literally saying ones prayers, with each rosary bead used to keep count of the number of prayers said. In the days when all English-speaking Christians were Catholics, using the rosary was such a common practice that it was only natural for the word for prayer to become the word for the bead used to say a prayer.this way, Suffield is arguing, deep spiritual communication has been trivialized into a trinket. Modern English bead has come so far from its original center that its sphere of meaning no longer includes prayer - but does include other small round objects, such as beads of sweat.word rosary, incidentally, originally was Latin for a rose garden, which was applied as a metaphorical description of the prayer cycle, which was a rose garden of prayers, with the rose garden symbolizing both the Garden of Eden (or paradise, which originally meant, well we could go on forever…) and the rose of the Virgin Mary.word that has shown similar semantic degeneration to gaudy is tawdry. In the eighth century, AEthelthy/rth, Queen of Northumbria, abdicated her office and renounced the pleasures of the flesh, having her marriage to the King of Northumbria annulled to become abbess of a monastery on the Isle of Ely. This act of sacrifice and her subsequent holiness prompted others to revere her as a saint. Legend has it that she died of a disease of the throat, a disease that she regarded as judgment upon the vanity of her youth, when she loved to wear beautiful necklaces in court. Eventually, AEthelthy/rth was beatified, and - as by this time phonetic change had simplified her name to Audrey - she was known as St. Audrey. An annual fair was held in her memory each October 17th, and at the fair were sold cheap souvenirs, including a neck lace called St. Audreys lace. In England, the initial [s] of saints names is often elided (for instance, the town of St. Albans in Hertfordshire is locally pronounced as [talbans] by some). As a result of this process, by the 1800s, the necklaces were called tawdry laces. It wasnt long before tawdry was applied to the other cheap souvenirs sold at the annual fair, with the result that tawdry became a general adjective meaning gaudy and cheap in appearance.word tawdry is not the only eponymous word to degenerate: the last word in Suffields first stanza, maudlin, is short for Magdalene. Mary Magdalene was the reformed prostitute who wept at Christs tomb that first Easter morning; this weeping has been memorialized in innumerable medieval paintings and stain-glass windows. As a result, her name came to be used to describe anyone who was weeping, and from there the meaning radiated out to excessively sentimental. Magdalene came to be pronounced maudlin through gradual phonetic change; in fact, Magdalen College at Oxford University is locally known as Maudlin. Silly are the goddy tawdry maudlin.on to the next line of Suffields poem (for they shall christgeewhiz bow down before him), we find another religious figure, of greater stature than Mary Magdalene or St. Audrey, who has had his name spawn many new words. Of course, this is Jesus Christ, whose name has become an oath. Because swearing is considered inappropriate in polite society, people slightly changed the sound of the invective. Damn it! became darn it!, shit! became shoot!, Jesus! became gee, gee whiz and geez and Jesus Christ! became Jiminy Crickets, among others. These euphemistic changes are called minced oaths.final word in Suffields poem to undergo pejoration is paternoster, which is descended from the Latin pater noster, which represents Our Father, the first words of the Lords Prayer. As a result of this relationship, the words came to be known as another name for the Lords Prayer and came to mean one of the large beads on a rosary on which the Paternoster was recited (those beads again!). As its meaning radiated outward from large bead, it even came to mean a weighted fishing line with hooks connected by bead-like swivels. The word paternoster also came to mean any word-formula spoken as a prayer or magic spell. Since the Paternoster was in Latin, and in Medieval times Latin was no longer the native language of any of the reciters, the prayer was often recited quickly and with little regard for the sense of the words. Because of this, paternoster came to mean meaningless chatter, words empty of meaning - this sense of the word gave rise to the form patter. (The word pitter-patter, though used by Suffield in his poem, is actually etymologically unrelated to the word patter with this meaning.)has the sense of meaningless words, and sharp words can become rounded and dull. But although Suffield laments that no word is still the Word [of God], some words do assume a dignity they had not before possessed.is the process by which a words meaning improves or becomes elevated, coming to represent something more favorable than it originally referred to.words that have undergone amelioration are priest and prester. Both words (along with presbyter) are descended from the Greek word presbuteros, older man, elder, a comparative form of the word presbus, old man. Because churches of most religions are headed by elders and not youth, and because age is often equated with wisdom, the Greek word gradually acquired the meaning of church leader, priest. The different forms represent borrowings made at different times, with priest being the oldest English form, followed by prester, followed by the learned borrowing of presbyter.

In what for Suffield is the greatest example of amelioration, the early Old English word hlfweard, which if translated using its descendant words would be rendered loafward, meant the keeper of the bread and was applied to the head of a household. Although keeper of the bread might bear witness to the importance of that most basic of foodstuffs to early Anglo-Saxons, alternatively one might argue that it had no more literal sense than bread - does in the modern word breadwinner. The word hlfweard has been shortened over time, first to hlford and then to lord. Over time, the word has been used of not just any head of household but of princes and nobility; this sense was extended to include the Prince of Light, God. For Suffield, this extension of lord makes a fitting appellation for Christ, given that Christ was the keeper of the bread of communion. The word lord, which ends the poem, stands in start contrast to the demeaning phrase christgeewhiz used earlier in the poem as an example of pejoration. By ending the poem with the word lord, Suffield offers a hope for redemption for all words.the poet Suffield believes that man has taken the meaning out of Gods words, reducing pater noster to patter and Gods sons name to a curse. Yet if he is extreme in his view of pejoration as an example of mans trivialization of God and rejection of divine meaning, the process of semantic change is almost universally condemned by teachers, scholars and other concerned language speakers. In fact, semantic drift is as natural as continental drift and almost as inexorable. The meanings of words change, sometimes for the worse, but sometimes providing useful distinctions. Some words, like lord, are even inspired.of semantic changethe above discussion shows, many people view semantic change with strong emotions. Some, like Suffield, may even perceive it as an almost diabolical force. The discussion of meaning change is often emotionally charged, with the meanings perceived as improving (amelioration) or worsening (pejoration) over time. This next section will attempt to provide a more clinical overview of how words change meanings.this: flip through the dictionary and look at random for a word with four or more meanings, preferably a word you think you know. Chances are you will find that it has an unlikely hodge-podge of meanings, at least one of which will surprise you. Heres what I found when I tried this myself: daughter has these senses, among others:s female child.female descendant.woman thought of as if in a parent/child relationship: a daughter of Christ.personified as a female descendant: the Singer sewing machine is the daughter of the loom.. The immediate product of the radioactive decay of an element.last sense makes me want to write a short story, The Daughter of Fat Man, in which I could use the word daughter in at least three of its senses. How does a word come to have such broad, often very different, meanings?the simplest level, words do undergo only two types of meaning change, not amelioration and pejoration, but generalization (a words meaning widens to include new concepts), and specialization (a words meaning contracts to focus on fewer concepts).taxonomy of semantic changeknown as extension, generalization is the use of a word in a broader realm of meaning than it originally possessed, often referring to all items in a class, rather than one specific item. For instance, place derives from Latin platea,