Changes In The Meaning Of Words

Words change their meaning, sometimes usefully, sometimes not.

It is proper to struggle against a changing meaning when the change does not enrich the language but merely blunts a fine edge. This book contains several protests against changes of this sort, for instance the encroachment of alibi on excuse, of anticipate on expect, of claim on assert, of following on after and of due to on owing to.

But it is not reasonable to condemn the use of a word in a well-established sense merely because its etymological meaning is different:

To hold us to the bald etymology is a pedantry of the plain man, or of the half-educated man, who has not regarded its growth.... The word apostate for example means for us far more than an absentee or a dissenter; and a muscle more than a little mouse ; monks rarely live alone ; your anecdote is anything but clandestine ; rivals contend for other than water rights, and hypocrites are no longer confined to the theatre. (Sir Clifford Allbutt—Notes on the composition of scientific papers, Macmillan 1925.)

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