QIYUF # 4: Semantic Shift

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Quite Interesting Yet Useless Fact.

Semantic Shift is where a word’s meaning changes over time.  They move, expand, contract, etc, some can mean the complete opposite to what they originally were.  Not that this is a quick thing.  It generally takes a few millenium.

For example, the word Hound now refers to a few breeds of dog, but originally, it referred to any four legged animal.  Conversely, Dog was a type of dog, but over time, it came to mean the entire breed.  Weird huh.

The word Black and the french word ‘Blanc’ meaning white, were originally the same word, but over time, in English, it went from meaning ‘white’ to ‘white like sunlight’ to ‘sunlight’ to ‘sun’ to ‘flame’ to ‘burnt flame’ to ‘charred’ to ‘charred black’ to eventually ‘black’.  Or the other way around; I honestly can’t remember.

It’s sometimes quicker though.  The word gay has taken an unfortunate turn in about 3 generations.  Our grandparents knew it to mean ‘happy,’ our parents knew it to mean ‘homosexual,’ and while that meaning still couns, our generation also use it to mean ‘bad.’

So in about three generations, it’s gone from happy to bad.  That was quick.

Pop Quiz:  Link the phrase to the correct meaning.

1: “He looks so gay today.”                                                A:  “He looks like a homosexual today.”

2: “He looks so gay today.”                                                B: “He looks so bad today.”

3: “He looks so gay today.”                                                C:  “He looks so happy today.”

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