I'm looking for a word that describes words that do not mean the same thing as before, for example, due to over usage.

For example, the word glitch.

a sudden, usually temporary malfunction or fault of equipment.

'Somebody help Tom, he's glitching out.'

In this case, the word 'glitch' usually refers to the malfunction of machineries, but has been used in the context of humans. It still does embodies part of its meaning in this case, but definitely not the 'equipment' part.

So, I'm wondering is there a word used to describe this behaviour of usage of the words.

  • 5
    I think the general process is captured by the term "language evolution". I don't know if there exists a terms which have recently acquired new glosses.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 16:17
  • 10
    It's 'semantic drift'
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 16:28
  • @Mitch Ah, good catch! Worth an answer, IMO.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 16:44
  • 1
    It's up for anyone else to make a good answer out of.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 19:15
  • 1
    The word "word" describes "a word that does not mean the same thing as before". All words evolve.
    – Drew
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


If a compound word will do, we may suggest some because no single word is readily available at hand even in the hand of great etymologists. Wikipedia suggests




SEMANTIC CHANGE to which we like to add

WORDS change because they are constantly used and, in course of such usage, some become blunt, some sharper,some widen while some become narrow, some are lost in the maze of similarities/associations where as some others take refuse in contrasts.

Figure of Speech plays a major role in this change, though certainly not all.

Strange are the ways of such changes. Otherwise, 'NICE' once meaning foolish, now, means agreeable and SILLY originally meaning 'happy' now comes to mean foolish.

One more point. Use of the term "original" in respect of a word is relative. This is termed as "etymological Fallacy". In our quest for word-meaning there must be a point in known history beyond which it is shrouded in mystery, so to say, this-far-no-further point. Who knows the 'Word' may have yet another totally different meaning earlier!


I'd simply say the word is being used figuratively:




  1. departing from a literal use of words; metaphorical. "a figurative expression"

synonyms: metaphorical, non-literal, symbolic, allegorical, representative, emblematic;

antonyms: literal

  • 1
    To support this good answer: "On many occassions, the words may not convey the literal meaning of them. They may convey the indirect meanings which may be just the opposite to their literal meanings. Such symbolical and metaphorical meanings are called "Figuratives". They contain the figure of speech. An example : "Hooliganism has transcended all borders, both literally and figuratively speaking.
    – Graffito
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 16:28
  • 1
    @Graffito, I'm now trying to think of an example of a figure of speech that's the opposite of its literal meaning :) Just to note, if you're quoting from other sources, it's good practice to attribute them too. Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 16:37
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    @anotherdave: What you're looking for is an example of irony--albeit the most basic and simplest form there is. For example, "I love you," when you really mean "I hate you." More complex ironies involve a conflict between the literal and figurative meanings, and not just "the opposite." Moreover, they are at times difficult to interpret. Even Plato may have interpreted some of Socrates' ironies incorrectly! See the 7th paragraph in the article here (beginning with the words "Kierkegaard next considers Plato's Socrates"): sorenkierkegaard.org/concept-of-irony.html Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 16:59

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