Tuesday, September 09, 2008

cultural change and language change

In our last two sessions, my SOC 101 class (the one in the classroom)and I have been focusing on the elements of culture, beginning with language, and talking about changes in culture. Last Thursday we were coming up with examples of words that have come to have different meanings -- both denotations (the direct, explicit, dictionary meaning) and connotations (implied or suggested meaning).

In light of this conversation with my students I find it interesting, that apparently the meaning (both denotation and connotation) of the noun "barracuda" has evidently undergone some changes. According to my Merriam-Webster Dictionary (copyright 2004) the second meaning of "barracuda" is a person who "uses aggressive, selfish, and sometimes unethical methods to obtain a goal, especially in business."

Now my 1941 Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, doesn't even have that meaning, it just defines barracuda as "voracious pike-like marine fish." So the application of the name to humans is one example of the changing nature of language.

Now, it would appear, that the Republicans either like the idea of Sarah Palin being labeled "aggressive, selfish, and sometimes unethical" or they think the word means something entirely different. Certainly the Heart song "Barracuda" that the Republicans have chosen (with out the group's permission) as Palin's theme song, does not use the term in a wholly complementary way --the person being called "barracuda" appears to be a preditory and lying person.

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