Can You Debate the Meaning of Words?

meaning of words

What do words mean?

While a lot of things are uncertain and fluid in our world, I wonder if we can debate the meaning of words.

My oldest son has a pretty decent vocabulary, but in seventh grade, he missed several words on a recent vocabulary quiz. I looked over the list. His grade surprised meĀ grade, because I saw words that I would expect (assume, anticipate?) him to know.

“I knew the words, but the definitions weren’t ones I use,” he explained. (excused? justified?)

I couldn’t help smiling at his answer. I also didn’t hesitate to challenge him on it.

“You know, words have established definitions. It’s not really ‘your definitions’ versus the ones on this sheet. You need to understand these definitions,” I insisted.

Books About Words

He knew better than to argue back. But the conversation sparked an inner debate in my own mind. And of course the inner debate got me thinking about a book, specifically the book Frindle.

My selection for my book club in January was Word by Word, a book about dictionaries. I learned some interesting things from that book. I learned the dictionary describes how words are used and what they mean. The dictionary doesn’t proscribe what words mean. That was a really significant distinction in my mind.

I feel words do have accepted meanings, but that those meanings can change. And that my son’s problem is not that he didn’t know what the words meant, but that he hadn’t learned the accepted answers he needed to learn for that particular quiz.

What’s a word that has changed meaning from the first time you’ve learned it until how you (or we) use it today?