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In A. E. Housman's With rue my heart is laden:

WITH rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.

he refers to laden as loaded, burdened with regrets. But laden differs from loaded according to a pocketbook I have.

Can somebody help with the big difference?

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I'm putting this in comments because it is not an answer to your question. I am not addressing difference in meaning, but rather difference in etymology. Interestingly, laden is an adjective derived from the past participle of "lade", derived from OE, hladen, "to load". Load derives from laeden, "to guide", and retained its meaning in "lodestone" (magnet, ie compass) and "lodestar" (guiding star, ie Northstar). The meaning shifted to supplant "lade" c. 1300 BCE, see etymonline.com/index.php?search=load –  NateMPLS May 8 '11 at 4:57
    
offengehirn: (open mind) hladen == laden. laeden == leiten. ;-) –  NateMPLS May 8 '11 at 5:06

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

While each has specific meanings that are not shared (eg "loaded" for "rich"), in their central meaning they are synonymous. (The Oxford English Dictionary uses each of the two as one of the words to define the other).

"Laden" tends to be more poetic, but it can still be used in ordinary speech.

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do you mean it much like the difference between 'sans' and 'without'? –  Kunal Vyas May 7 '11 at 23:13
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Not really: "sans" is very literary, and many people would not understand it. "Laden" tends to be literary, but it occurs in some common phrases (such as "heavily laden". –  Colin Fine May 8 '11 at 0:24
    
The difference is not just a matter of sounding more poetic, but of the connotations laden has (heavy, burdensome) that loaded does not. –  AlannaRose Oct 5 at 0:35

According to Merriam-Webster laden means

loaded heavily with something: having or carrying a large amount of something.

It is something more than just being loaded. Furthermore, the term seems to be used more often in poetry than common conversations.

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In this case, looking at the synonyms of the words is most revealing.

On Merriam-Webster, loaded has synonyms like "brimming", "full" and "jam-packed". Laden, on the other hand, has synonyms like "burden", "encumber", and "weight.

The connotation when you say "the tree was loaded with fruit" is positive: the tree is full of fruit, which means there's plenty to go around. When you say "the tree was laden with fruit", it's implying that the tree's branches are weighed down by their burden of fruit.

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