What’s in a Name?

Denotation is the explicit or direct meaning or set of meanings of a word or expression (as found in a dictionary), as distinguished from the ideas or meanings associated with it or suggested by it, a word’s connotation. You could say that a word’s “connotation” is given through a person’s or a group’s collective experience.

For example, the word “influx” means an “inpouring of” something and doesn’t sound that bad, but if you put it in a sentence, “the influx of tourists has caused problems for the local people in the area”, “influx” has a negative implication as “influx” is really a metaphor for “flooding” as in “inundating the area and causing problems”. If a language learner doesn’t realize the positive or negative connotation of the words they can really cause offense! A good dictionary will usually give you hints to how the word is used in real life.

Let’s take “migrant” and “refugee” from an ongoing news story. If we say “migrant” we think of “a person going from one country, region, or place to another”, but if we say the word “refugee” we envision “a person who flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval, war, etc.” Although technically speaking, a refugee can come under the “migrant” category, it doesn’t have the emotional impact as the word “refugee”.

By using either “positive” or “negative” names for things, you show your ideological position on something (your ideas and beliefs about something).

Using the list below as a guide, can you think of other positive/negative names for the same thing?

Positive Name Negative Name
Freedom fighter Terrorist
Determined Headstrong
Persevering Stubborn
Childlike Childish
Confident Cocky
Thin Scrawny
Economical Stingy
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