There is a disagreement in the office. Are 'center of a circle' and 'shopping center' using the same meaning of the word center? Don't they both mean the middle or heart of the thing being referenced?

  • Yes, they are (more formally all the senses you mention are in the same semantic field, all related to the fundamental metaphor of "center"). What do your opponents say?
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 27, 2016 at 12:53
  • this is my position. They say they have independent meanings. Jul 27, 2016 at 13:21
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    You can physically go to the center of a shopping center because shopping center refers to a location at which shopping can be performed. It even has it's own definition.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jul 27, 2016 at 16:08
  • Not all shopping centers are in the middle of town. There are plenty to be found on the outskirts of cities.
    – user180089
    Jul 27, 2016 at 17:35

2 Answers 2


They're two different meanings for the same word. From the Oxford Dictionary (which has "centre" rather than "center" but we can ignore that distinction, I think):


1: The point that is equally distant from every point on the circumference of a circle or sphere.

2: The point from which an activity or process is directed, or on which it is focused

It doesn't make sense to say that a shopping centre is at the "middle" of the shopping - if anything, it's the other way round: the shopping is contained within the "shopping centre".

  • but isn't the shopping center the point around which the shopping revolves? in reference to the first answer. Jul 27, 2016 at 13:15
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    In my experience a shopping centre is a large building (like a mall) or area containing many shops, rather than a point which is in the middle of all the shops. Jul 27, 2016 at 13:17
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    If you compare shopping center or garden center with town center or city center, you'll see that the two centers have indeed a different meaning. Of course, the two meanings are related and (obviously) share an etymological background, but they are semantically different in modern usage.
    – oerkelens
    Jul 27, 2016 at 14:01

Center of a circle is the original meaning, by extension "the middle of anything" that is of the shopping in your specific case:

  • late 14c., "middle point of a circle; point round which something revolves," from Old French centre (14c.), from Latin centrum "center," originally fixed point of the two points of a drafting compass, from Greek kentron "sharp point, goad, sting of a wasp," from kentein "stitch," from PIE root *kent- "to prick" (source also of Breton kentr "a spur," Welsh cethr "nail," Old High German hantag "sharp, pointed").

  • Figuratively from 1680s. Meaning "the middle of anything" attested from 1590s. Spelling with -re popularized in Britain by Johnson's dictionary (following Bailey's), though -er is older and was used by Shakespeare, Milton, and Pope. Center of gravity is recorded from 1650s. Center of attention is from 1868.


  • A center is defined as a place or group of buildings where a specified activity is concentrated. in the oxford dictionary, so I'd say they were two separate definitions even though one implies the other. If you were to say City Center however, I'd argue it could be the same definition.
    – NibblyPig
    Jul 27, 2016 at 12:56
  • @SLC - as I said, "by extension" of the original meaning.
    – user66974
    Jul 27, 2016 at 12:57
  • Yes, I didn't feel it answered the original question though.
    – NibblyPig
    Jul 27, 2016 at 12:58
  • if shopping center references center by extension, I would argue they are fundamentally the same meaning Jul 27, 2016 at 13:22
  • @user53949 - Yes, terms have semantic changes and extentions during the centuries. The idea is the same, appiled to place with a central point around which activites take place (in this case shopping)
    – user66974
    Jul 27, 2016 at 13:25

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