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Words can change meaning over time. A good example of this would be 'gay' which has changed from meaning 'merry' to 'homosexual'. Over the past decade, it has also taken on pejorative connotations.

How often do words change meaning then revert back to their original meaning? Is this a one-way street?

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The pejorative meaning has been around for longer than a decade. If my memory serves me correctly, it appeared in the 70s or 80s which would be 30-40 years ago. –  MrHen Mar 27 '11 at 18:12
    
@MrHen I think the difference is that it's now used as in "ghey" to mean something bad in itself, not used simply as a perjorative term for homosexual. –  mgb Mar 27 '11 at 18:54
    
@Martin, - agreed. I was referring to the South Park use of "gay" which is free of sexual association. –  dave Mar 27 '11 at 19:36
    
@MrHen - Ironically just after the south park fag=harley rider, episode the Canadian Broadcasting body banned the Dire Straits song with the word fag=pop star in it! –  mgb Mar 27 '11 at 19:57
    
@Martin; @dave: Okay, I found the reference I was remembering. You skeptics... –  MrHen Mar 27 '11 at 19:59
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1 Answer

The precise meaning of many if not most words changes over time, for various reasons. There's a slight tendency not to revert to an earlier meaning simply because that would imply the direct negation of whatever caused the original change.

The example gay was originally coined within the homosexual community, so obviously it didn't originally have pejorative associations. They just arose naturally when the new meaning became more widespread, because the general population still includes some homophobes. Younger speakers tend to be less homophobic, and many now use gay as a general-purpose insult without necessarily even thinking about sexual orientation.

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