Explain the differences among connotation, denotation, and emotive meaning. Using examples throughout

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Words are signifiers, part of a language code to convey thoughts from sender to receiver.  The “denotation” of a word is its “lexical" meaning, its definition; its referent is an object, idea, etc.—“dog” is a word (a signifier) referring to a domesticated mammal that barks.  It is the same, lexically, as a “domesticated canine”.  But words like “mutt”, “pooch”, “doggy”, etc., while still referring to a “domesticated canine” have connotative value in a communication as well, given them by use in contexts over a period of time.  The connotative “meaning” of “mutt” is a mixed breed, accidentally formed rather than intentionally bred, and of questionable intelligence and value.  A “pooch” is loveable, cute, unassuming—this is the connotation of the word “pooch”; if you called a family pet a pooch, you would be complimenting the animal, but is you called a thoroughbred poodle a “pooch” you would be diminishing its value, not a pleasing term in the ears of its owner.  So, while “pooch” has connotations, it also has emotive power, in that the use of the word carries with it an emotional response or “meaning.”  A better example of “emotive” meaning in a word might be shown with insults or criticism:  in the free enterprise world, “prostitute” carries its denotation even when used metaphorically, but “whore”, “woman of the night”, “escort”, etc., all have emotive impact and do not transfer well as metaphor.  One cannot call a certain bird a “nightingale” without bringing along the emotive power of the word.  The best way to explain the difference between connotation and emotive is that connotation builds on past uses that have “frozen” the word (the word “discrimination”, for example, has accumulated connotation from its political use), while emotive builds on images and sounds suggested or even echoed in the denotated word: murmur, moonscape, sunrise, echo, etc.  Politically correct language, then, must include sensitivity to the connotative and emotive power of the words chosen, as well as their lexical "meaning."

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