Semantic Change

maxresdefaultSemantic change is the process in which the definition of the word changes over time. We will explore how the modern meaning of the words “nice”,” silly”, and “meat” has changed from the original meaning.

1) Nice:

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the original definition of “nice” in the fourteenth century is a foolish or a simple person. This means that it had a negative connotation and quality like stupid, witless, brainless, unintelligent, etc. However, the modern definition that emerged in the eighteenth century is enjoyable and pleasant. This word now has a positive connotation which totally changed its value and people started using it to express a good, delightful situation/object/person.

I was very shocked when I found out the original definition because it’s totally the opposite of how people use this word today! If people really know the original definition, then they wouldn’t use it anymore except in tense situations.

The original definition of the word is portrayed in Chaucer’s Romaunt of Rose when he stated “If it be ony fool or nyce, In whom that Shame hath no justice”. Obviously the word “nyce” here is not used to express a pleasant situation, and this is evident from the meaning of the sentence and the diction used like “fool”, “shame”, and “justice”.

Some modern usages of the word:

A LinkedIn user stated in his biography ” It’s nice to be Important but It’s more important to be nice.”

Imagine if the user knew the original definition of the word?

This tweet expresses how beautiful the city Nice is.

2) Silly:

In the 16th and 17th century, this word was defined as relating to a sense of worthiness and blessedness. Then, the definition changed into being a synonym for harmless or mild. Meanwhile, the definition of the word became more of an insult. It is defined as  being foolish, stupid, and unintelligent.

This following sentence demonstrates the old English definition of silly:

Jonathan was silly when he married Katherine, they both had a very happy marriage.

This explains how Jonathan was blessed in his marriage.

However, here is an example to the modern definition of the word:

3) Meat:

The Old English definition of “Meat” in the OED is: food, as nourishment for people, solid food, as opposed to drink.  This means that “meat” was used to express food in general and not just the “animal flesh”, as it is defined now.

If we search “meet” on Google, all we see is the modern definition which is some pictures of animal flesh with all its nutrition facts.

This was tweeted from the account “Mercy for Animals” in order to spread the spirit of vegetarianism.


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