Questions relating to semantics, the study of meaning.

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59
votes
8answers
16k views

If cow = beef, pig = pork, and deer = venison, then where is the word for human = [flesh as food source]?

Maybe it's the season of Halloween, because it's kind of a grim question, but I have seriously wondered from a language point of view - is there a word for human as 'food-meat', or has there ever ...
34
votes
6answers
3k views

Does apologizing entail recognizing being at fault?

Consider this example: I'm sorry if you got the impression that I meant to insult you. That was not my intention. Would it be correct to say that the above person apologized? All the ...
19
votes
4answers
42k views

“Liberty” versus “freedom”

What is the difference, if any, between liberty and freedom? Does it convey the same meaning if "Status of liberty" is replaced with "status of freedom" ? or every occurrence of "liberty" in ...
18
votes
8answers
2k views

Is there a term for ascribing acts of the human mind to non-human objects, and when is it appropriate to do this?

Nota bene: English isn't my native language, so when I say acts of the human mind, I attempt to generalize things such as making assumptions, drawing conclusions and (to some extent) to reject. To me ...
18
votes
8answers
6k views

Does “criticism” imply positive as well as negative?

I thought I was always taught at school that criticism meant evaluation and opinion, either positive or negative. These days, it seems criticism, or to criticise, is almost exclusively used to mean ...
18
votes
7answers
61k views

Is the phrase “it's just a matter of semantics” meaningless?

I hear this phrase from time to time, and I really don't know what it means. Two people are debating, and one says "the difference between your position and mine is just a matter of semantics." ...
17
votes
11answers
10k views

Idiom: in my neck of the woods, AmE

Idiom: in my neck of the woods (AmE) The meaning of this expression is: in the region where I live. I once tried to find out how a word that referred to a part of the body could later develop into ...
15
votes
5answers
79k views

Is a thumb also a finger?

The thumb has a different name compared to the other fingers (index, middle, ring, little) and it does not end with "finger". Also, when referring to the hand, I have seen literature where it is ...
14
votes
5answers
722 views

Can one “marry one's wife”?

I was vacantly reading the paper the other day when I came across a strange formation in the obituary: "he married his wife in 19XX". I was rather taken aback by this; surely he can't marry his own ...
14
votes
5answers
24k views

“Satire” versus “sarcasm”

I looked up the two words on wikitionary & got this: satire: A literary technique of writing or art which principally ridicules its subject often as an intended means of provoking or ...
14
votes
5answers
24k views

“Postfix” or “suffix”?

Wikipedia and The Free Dictionary were not much help — is there a practical difference in the semantics of suffix and postfix, except that the latter is more rare? File name extensions are well ...
14
votes
4answers
2k views

How are pronouns resolved?

Are pronouns in English resolved syntactically or semantically? Do they always refer to the closest matching noun? A wikipedia article has these examples: We gave the bananas to the monkeys ...
12
votes
3answers
2k views

“Bring 6 eggs. If there are potatoes, bring 9.”

This is with reference to this comic, called A Programmer's Life (translated from Portuguese): Programmer: My wife asked me to go to the market and said: “Bring six eggs. If there are potatoes, ...
10
votes
3answers
3k views

Can we call a person who loses things a “loser”?

Think > Thinker Draw > Drawer Can we call a person who loses thing a loser? Of course, I do not mean that they are not successful or failed but what should I call them?
10
votes
5answers
3k views

What is the semantic difference between “encipher” and “encrypt”?

What is the semantic difference between encipher and encrypt?
9
votes
8answers
617 views

Why is this use of the word “meaning” not quite right?

Today one of my students gave me some writing as part of her preparation for a Cambridge Proficiency exam. She was describing how after she'd moved away to go to university she'd temporarily lost ...
9
votes
5answers
2k views

Better than the next?

I've heard people using this idiom, such as "each day is better than the next", or "you hope that each experience you have is better than the next" (heard this one on a TV show not long ago), ...
8
votes
5answers
46k views

Is “including but not limited to” a redundant phrase?

Doesn't "including" imply the "not limited to"?
8
votes
2answers
2k views

Is there a clear delineation between the usages of 'this' and 'that' in American English?

One of my linguistics professors speaks English as a second language, and remarked that she never knows which of the two is appropriate. Given a list of examples, all native speakers in the classroom ...
8
votes
2answers
181 views

A question of interpretation: single word parenthesis

To my mind this: Entity foo varies seemingly at random. is semantically equivalent to this: Entity foo varies, seemingly, at random. However, is this necessarily the case? What ...
8
votes
2answers
2k views

Is “want” a causative verb?

I've always held on to the definition that Causative Verbs express how the Noun before the Verb influences the execution of an action. Similarly, the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written ...
8
votes
1answer
8k views

Difference between “subsequently” and “consequently”?

When studying and reading course material in "softer" sciences that are descriptive the word "subsequently" appears in a way like "and subsequently" ...what does it mean, disctinct from "consequently" ...
8
votes
3answers
2k views

“for good” expression in an unfortunate event?

I just heard an expression while watching a TV series yesterday. Someone just died and they said: He is gone for good I googled it and found that "for good" means "forever" in this context. But ...
7
votes
4answers
4k views

“Doubt” vs. “suspect” [closed]

I have never used doubt or suspect properly before. Now I understand that they seem to bear quite the opposite meanings in a sentence. For example, Everybody believes him, but I suspect he is ...
7
votes
2answers
257 views

Is there any semantic difference between “absolutely no x, except y” and “except y, absolutely no x”?

Bit of a quibble on a discussion elsewhere. I made the following statement: They had absolutely no debt, except for their mortgage. Someone (with whom I disagree vehemently) has accused this of ...
7
votes
5answers
4k views

What exactly is “verbal irony”

My daughter has been given the task - by me - of explaining irony. She identified and did a jolly good job of explaining 5 of the 6 apparent types of irony: dramatic, cosmic, socratic, situational, ...
6
votes
6answers
3k views

“Semantic”s relation to “Pedantic” [closed]

When pointing out to my friends one day that I should have used a different word in a previous conversation, I mentioned that I was being pedantic. They, ironically, corrected me saying I was being ...
6
votes
4answers
339 views

Does “If X discovers that Y is Z” imply that Y is Z?

Related Question: Entailment/Presupposition in if-clause. Consider the sentence "If John discovers that Mary is in New York, he will get angry." Does this imply that Mary is in New York now? Is ...
6
votes
1answer
287 views

Dress up like a tailback

This comes from The Newsroom S01E06, about 51:48. Will comments on a large black bodyguard's advancements on McKenzie: Will: Dress up like a tailback and he won't be able to lay a hand on you. ...
6
votes
2answers
184 views

Historical differences in usage of “Mrs” for “mistress” or “missus”

The title Mrs. stands for mistress, but some English native speakers claim mistress is only used to indicate the woman with whom one has an (illicit) affair and that missus is the long version of Mrs. ...
6
votes
3answers
2k views

Why are the notes or protocol of a meeting referred to as its 'minutes'?

A minute is 60 seconds. Something 'minute' is small, minor, perhaps short. Now, what about the minutes of a meeting or a session? As in, its written protocol? Are they called that because: The ...
6
votes
3answers
209 views

“This page intentionally blank” … but it isn't!

We are all familiar with user manuals or documents with pages printed with "intentionally blank" ... but with those words on them, they are no longer blank! I'm pretty sure I saw a user manual once ...
6
votes
5answers
664 views

Can someone please explain the syntactic rules at work here?

I'll use an example statement that's currently being used in a radio commercial for American Family Insurance (paraphrased.) They all told me that I couldn't build my dream home by myself; but, I ...
6
votes
2answers
3k views

“noun of noun” vs. “noun+noun”?

I wonder if there is a significant difference at the semantic or pragmatic levels in using the compounds structures noun of noun or noun+noun. For example, is it the same to say "the consumption of ...
5
votes
6answers
2k views

Do we compile the source or the binaries?

When programming, we usually write text files in some programming language. These source files are fed into a compiler that compiles them into binary files. My question is whether to say: we ...
5
votes
4answers
51k views

What is the difference between syntax and semantics? [closed]

As a computer scientist and a writing hobbyist, I really ought to know these terms' meanings for memory. Can anyone clarify the difference between syntax and semantics, and provide some examples? For ...
5
votes
4answers
464 views

What's the proper interpretation of: “I was kissed by a girl twice”?

The other day I experienced two distinct but similar events. I wanted to convey this to a friend and this is what came to mind: "I was kissed by a girl twice." My question is, does this sentence say, ...
5
votes
2answers
820 views

Is it correct to use “or” in place of “and/or”?

Consider the following sentence: A project is a large and/or complex undertaking. To me, the expression “and/or” seems redundant since in formal logic “or” implies ...
5
votes
5answers
12k views

Use of “Might” and “Might not”

I know "Might" and "Might not" means the lack of certainty, but is there an implied probability in the use of these terms? In other words, does "I might be coming" imply that "It is extremely likely ...
5
votes
1answer
30k views

Christmas: Christ + Mas? [closed]

What is the meaning of Christmas in the English language? Christ + mas = Christmas? Is it because Christ is associated with a cross that it sometimes reads X-mas? And where is the mas coming ...
5
votes
3answers
740 views

What's the semantic difference between “overrated” and “overvalued”?

I often see those two words used together like "overrated & overvalued". That implies that they have different connotations. I wonder if that's really the case or they are used together just for ...
5
votes
1answer
7k views

Difference between the terms 'famous' & 'infamous'; 'valuable' & 'invaluable'

Question in Short: Why is it that the terms valuable and invaluable mean almost the same thing while the terms famous and infamous are almost semantically opposite in meaning? That is, one is used to ...
5
votes
3answers
7k views

Is there a semantic difference between “manipulable” and “manipulatable”?

In all the sources I can find, the terms "manipulable" and "manipulatable" are both defined as some form of "able to be manipulated". But depending on the source, one word seems to be related to ...
5
votes
5answers
4k views

What word describes text having a different meaning backwards and forwards?

Jonathan Reed's poem 'Lost Generation' is a pessimistic view of the future if read forwards. However, if you read it backwards linewise (not wordwise), it is still semantically meaningful, but the ...
5
votes
2answers
456 views

“If the bowl had been stronger, my song had been longer.”

In the original version of the nursery rhyme, The Wise Men of Gotham, the word 'had' is used in the main clause of a sentence where it seems modern English would commonly use 'would have'. The full ...
5
votes
4answers
3k views

One who objectifies women

Is there a single word or short phrase to describe someone who treats women like objects? Is there a similar word/phrase for who objectifies other people in general?
5
votes
7answers
5k views

What is the meaning of “run someone out of town”?

I know it's hard to understand a sentence without context, but what situation comes naturally to your mind when you hear the following sentence? She ran the mayor out of town.
5
votes
2answers
26k views

“Query” vs. “Inquiry”

What is the difference between the words "inquiry" and "query?" I tend to associate the latter with technology (e.g., search engine queries), but I'm not sure what the actual meaning is.
5
votes
6answers
153 views

To make your personal enemy or rival

I'm watching the GOP debate, and I'm noticing that some candidates are picking on Hillary. Is there a verb for an act where a person castigates someone else in hopes of making that person his or her ...
5
votes
3answers
338 views

Semantic shift in “around”

I'm interested in the use of "around" as a synomym for "about, concerning, related to", which doesn't seem to be recorded in current dictionaries. I'd call it an academic/pseudo-academic usage and ...