Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Based on this question, I was curious if there is an actual term that describes how words' meanings change or become deprecated over time.

share|improve this question
    
One of the words you used, "degeneration", has a judgmental feel, which was once common, and I think still is in non-specialist discussions. "Corruption" in particular is to be found in older dictionaries. Most linguists today prefer neutral words like "change" or "development". –  Colin Fine Jan 26 '11 at 13:03
    
Ah, thanks for the comment. Yeah, I wasn't really sure what the best term was, so I took a chance. :) –  LucasTizma Jan 26 '11 at 17:05
add comment

1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

It's known as semantic change, semantic shift, or semantic progression.

Coincidentally, gay is mentioned on that Wikipedia article:

Gay - Originally meant feelings of being "carefree", "happy", or "bright and showy"; it had also come to acquire some connotations of "immorality" as early as 1637. The term later began to be used in reference to homosexuality, in particular, from the early 20th century, a usage that may have dated prior to the 19th century.

share|improve this answer
    
"semantic drift" is also in use. –  hippietrail Jul 11 '11 at 12:45
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.