Is there a word for "usurpation, rather than merely borrowing, of an old word by later, technical usage"? If so, what is it?

For example, of old, the English word summer meant "that season of the year in which the sun shines most directly; the warmest period of the year"; or even of older, as our own Peter Shor observes, "the half-year from around April to September." However, if you use the word today in its ancient senses, it may not be long before someone earnestly corrects you to the effect that "summer" did not start until the solstice, about June 21.

Meghan Barr, Associated Press, June 19, 2012:

NEW YORK—The official start of summer brought temperatures in the high 90s to the Eastern Seaboard on Wednesday....

One does not wish to be too unkind to a busy staff reporter, perspiring at her desk, hurriedly churning pages of copy! However, the adjective "astronomical" was, of course, available to Ms. Barr in place of the vague "official." Now, Ms. Barr (as one suspects) and I both agree that her audience would have found "astronomical" jarring in this context; but, you see, that's my point.

Other old words that have suffered as summer has might include nouns like force, energy and power, adjectives like energetic (but oddly not forceful or powerful), verbs like to dissolve, and so on. Our own FumbleFingers notes the noun train, whose older meanings the heedless locomotive seems to have hauled away.

The word metaphor indicates the borrowing, but does not imply the usurpation. Is there a word (most likely a word from the Greek, one supposes) that also implies the usurpation?

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    The English word summer originally meant the half-year from around April to September. Sep 13, 2014 at 11:56
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    You must move in extremely (misguidedly) pedantic circles if ‘corrections’ that summer only starts at the summer solstice are commonplace—or even existent at all—for you. Summer is just the warmest period of the year in normal language usage. Not sure how force, energy, and power don’t just retain their old, generic meanings, either, in addition to more technical meanings they have developed alongside the original ones. Sep 13, 2014 at 11:57
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    This is a good question, and the definition of the desired word is quite clear. However, it might help us find or coin a word for it if better examples were given. Personally. I'm going to look for an old word I can reuse for this purpose. :)
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 13, 2014 at 12:01
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    @Thb, what Janus was said was that the normal, everyday use of "the warm part of the year" is still in common use and full force in everyday speech, and lives alongside the more technical meaning (which is why, in fact, Ms. Barr had to qualify the "start of summer" with "official", because otherwise she risked being I misunderstood by her audience, as meaning "Late May when the weather started getting nice"). In other words, the word "summer" has not been usurped, it merely has two meanings which coexist (like "theory" in science vs the vernacular).
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 13, 2014 at 12:13
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    @thb: I just though of a much better (and much more recent) example. We're always hearing references to "a quantum leap forward", but if my physics serves me aright, that should mean the smallest possible advance, not a really big one. Sep 13, 2014 at 16:17

2 Answers 2


I might suggest:

to use or take control of (something) for your own purposes Merriam Webster

To take or assume for one's own use; appropriate The Free Dictionary

or in extreme cases


  1. to define (as a concept) again, reformulate; had to redefine their terms
  2. to reexamine or reevaluate especially with a view to change
    *From Merriam Webster

I think these definitions are especially applicable when something new is invented that needs a name and an existing word is coopted for that purpose. Computer comes to mind where this used to mean a person who performed computations. I've seen pictures of a room full of women all sitting at desks parallel processing.

  • co-opt is an outstanding idea, good one
    – Fattie
    Sep 14, 2014 at 7:44

"Specialization" or "Semantic Narrowing" - "A process of SEMANTIC CHANGE in which narrowing occurs in the meaning of a word..."

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