Holten: One meaning today might be a completely different one tomorrow

"Can you imagine which words we are using today that might have a completely different meaning tomorrow?," writes Kevin Holten.

Kevin Holten
Kevin Holten

This is another one of those, “Do you remember when columns”. And in this case, we are looking at the change in the meaning of words over time. But not over a long time.

For example, do you remember when the word “gay” meant that someone was happy? In fact, not that long ago Mr. Dictionary said that “gay” meant lighthearted and carefree.

Now, of course, Mr. Dictionary has changed his mind and the new definition means to be sexually or romantically attracted exclusively to people of one's own sex or gender (used especially for the definition of a man).

Much more than that, the word “gay” is now also a launching pad for endless political and moral debate. Which is only getting more emphatic with time, even though it’s a completely private preference, and could easily stay that way, but instead is distracting us from many other much more important issues.

Of course, the word “cool”, which once meant that temperatures were low, now has blossomed into a remuda of meanings. For example, cool also means showing no friendliness toward a person or enthusiasm for an idea or project. Then again, it also means calmness and composure, among other things.


Then there’s the word “space”. Do you remember when your mother or father used to send you to your room for being unruly or not wanting to eat your vegetables? Well, there’s no such thing as a “room” anymore. It is instead referred to as a “space”.

Literally, if you watch an episode about a house being remodeled on the Home & Garden Network, in one half-hour’s time, you can hear the word “space” used a minimum of 50 times. And you may never hear the word “room” used at all.

One has to wonder what crime the word “room” committed, to now be banned from usage in the United States of America?

Then there are the obvious changes in the meanings of words that the internet has brought about. For example, a troll used to be a dwarf or giant in Scandinavian folklore inhabiting caves or hills. Now it is a person who sows discord on the internet by starting arguments or upsetting people.

And, of course, a tweet used to be a chirping note that you heard from a bird. Now it is a very short message posted on the Twitter website.

Meanwhile, a tablet used to be something, like an aspirin, that you took when you were sick or had a headache. Now it is a general-purpose computer contained in a touchscreen panel.

Can you imagine which words we are using today that might have a completely different meaning tomorrow. Perhaps one must be careful so as to never be quoted, because what you say today could possibly have a completely different meaning in 10 years and turn you into a cancel culture target.

Former President Ronald Reagan once said that the most terrifying words in the English language are, I'm from the government and I'm here to help. Long ago that statement might have had one meaning and today quite another.


Comedian Robin Williams once said that no matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.

That might be true, but not for long if the world keeps changing the meaning of those words.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Dickinson Press, nor Forum ownership.

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