Wednesday, September 15, 2010

connotation, denotation, and love

My entry last Wednesday on word misappropriation had a few of you discussing the use of the word "love" and whether or not it's appropriate to use the same word for love of people and love of oreos. tells me the following are synonyms.

admire, adulate, be attached to, be captivated by, be crazy about, be enamored of, be enchanted by, be fascinated with, be fond of, be in love with, canonize, care for, cherish, choose, deify, delight in, dote on, esteem, exalt, fall for, fancy, glorify, go for, gone on, have affection for, have it bad, hold dear, hold high, idolize, long for, lose one's heart to, prefer, prize, put on pedestal, think the world of, thrive with, treasure, venerate, wild for, worship
Well,  "I am enchanted by oreos" doesn't seem to sound much better.

So that's where connotation comes in. I always loved teaching connotation vs. denotation when I taught high school. I always taught it right before a poetry unit - because poets make the best use of connotation - the whole idea is to pack a lot of meaning into a few words and when the reader takes the time to deconstruct all the connotative meanings - the poem expands. One of these days I'll deconstruct some of my favorite poems and be geeky about how the words all mean so much.


Denotation is the dictionary definition of the word - connotation is everything else. Connotation often has much to do with the context, but it doesn't have to.

Cultural words, for instance, have a strong connotative meaning even without context (though I guess you could argue that culture itself is context, but that's a little more philosophical than I wanted to get).

For example, if I say the term, "rap music" - you most likely tend to think of the rap music culture - the clothing, the attitudes, etc.  That's all connotation. The denotation is what actually defines that style of music - perhaps incorporating the history and creation of the style as well.

Love, on the other hand, relies heavily on context in order to determine the connotation.

If someone says they love their spouse and then says they love oreos - I am not confused - the fact that love has the same definition is not problematic because each context provides a different connotation.


  1. I think I disagree a little with you here. I think using a strong word such as love to describe enjoying a food really waters down the word. And, I think because love is used so often (I love this radio station, I love this book, I love this show, etc) it also takes away from the meaning when used properly. Well, maybe it doesn't take away from the meaning when used properly ... it just, in my opinion, is used improperly more often than not. Of course, love isn't the only word this has happened to. C.S. Lewis touches on this concept on Mere Christianity. There he is talking about the word Christian.

  2. Hollie - I can see your point and I try not to overuse "love" -for much the same reason I pay attention to when I say "starving" - because words do have power and the power gets lost when it's overused.

    I guess I tend to see "starving" as a MISuse and "love" as an OVERuse.

  3. I was going to ask why you felt it was misappropriation with the word "starving", but relied on connotation for the word "love"...but I think you answered it in your last sentence in the comment above. Interesting. I wouldn't necessarily agree, but it's interesting nonetheless!