What is denotation?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Denotation is the dictionary definition of a word. It should not be confused with its opposite, connotation. Denotation is the basic, literal meaning of the word. Connotation is a word with associations other than the definition. Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise" has a line that provides denotation and connotation:

You may cut me with your eyes... (22)

The denotation for the verbĀ cut is to "carve" as with a Thanksgiving turkey or "mow" as with a lawn. However, as Angelou addresses prejudicial actions toward blacks, the connotation of cut here means to "injure."

A chicken is a fowl that lays eggs or may be served for dinner. However, calling someone a chicken implies that he is a coward. It is the difference between inexpensive and cheap. Both denote the same thing, but in terms of connotation, while inexpensive means "not costly," the connotation for cheap is "poorly made."