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Words have both denotations and connotations; this multidimensional quality enhances both prose and poetry. While the denotation of a word is the literal meaning that can be found in a dictionary entry, the connotation of a word are all the meanings that a word suggests, its overtones of meaning. A word acquires these connotations from its past history and associations, from the way and the circumstances in which it has been used. For instance, the word home means literally (denotation) a place where one lives, but by connotation is suggest security, love, comfort, family, warmth. The words childish and childlike both mean characteristic of a child; however, their connotations differ. Childish has a negative connotation: it suggests pettiness, capricious behavior, temper tantrums. But, childlike has a more positive connotation, suggesting innocence, naivete, wonder, meekness. Laura, a shy young woman in "The Glass Menagerie," for instance, is childlike, but certainly not childish. So, it is important to select words by both their denotation and connotation.
In "Great Expectations" Dickens ironically uses the word "Tickler" for the stick that Mrs. Joe beats Pip with so unmercifully. The word tickle has a denotation of "to be affected with a tingling or itching sensaiton, as from light touches or strokes. But, in this novel, "Tickler" suggests anything but light strokes!
Look for simpler words that have different meanings in the context of the novel. For instance, when Magwitch calls upon Pip in London in the middle of the night, he explains why he has visited Pip. Revealing that he is Pip's benefactor, he excitedly relates how he has saved for Pip and planned to make him a gentleman. Pip narrates,
In his heat and triumph, and hin his knowledge that I had been nearly fainting, he did not remark on my reception of all this.
Ask yourself what is the difference between the literal meaning of heat and what is suggested in this passage? The difference is connotation.
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