Semantic Change and Meaninglessness Analytical Essay by Shaad

Semantic Change and Meaninglessness
An analysis of four words to illustrate the trend towards meaninglessness in semantic change.
# 146713 | 1,991 words | 11 sources | APA | 2010 | BD
Published by on Jan 14, 2011 in Language (English: Linguistics) , English (General) , Linguistics (General)

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The paper illustrates semantic change over long periods of time and concentrates on four examples, each chosen to illustrate George Zito's thesis that semantic change in the modern era is directed towards meaninglessness. The paper discusses the words "villain", "platonic", "nice" and "silly" to show how they have been drained of their meaning and reduced to trivial use. For each word, the paper traces the evolution carefully, highlighting the historical contexts that have conferred a new meaning.

From the Paper:

"In his The Death of Meaning, George Zito advances the theory that the modern trend in semantic change is towards meaninglessness. Conventional etymology only seeks to document how words have changed meaning over time. But any form of meaning denotes absolute social concepts, a thing that is becoming less and less viable in the context of modern social fragmentation and relativism. The consequence is that the pace of semantic change is accelerating, and neither is this change directed in a linear fashion. Dictionaries are beginning to list multiple meanings of words, and not all of them are classified as archaic. For example the Oxford English Dictionary lists 464 different senses of the word `set'. Multiplicity of meanings comes to be more and more encouraged in order to accommodate the individualism prevalent in modern society, and, as Durkheim feared in the 19th century, this can only lead towards meaninglessness and ultimately the dissolution of society (Zito 1993, p. 7). Zito limits his study to the modern era, but the same trend can be observed as working throughout history."

Sample of Sources Used:

  • Austen, J. (2003) Northanger Abbey: Lady Susan; The Watsons; Sanditon, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Brown, P. R. L. (1988) The body and society: men, women, and sexual renunciation in early Christianity, Columbia University Press, New York.
  • Campbell, L. (2004) Historical linguistics: an introduction, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Lewis, R. E., Reidy, J. (1987) Middle English Dictionary: S.3, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.
  • Mugglestone, L. (2005) Lost for words: the hidden history of the Oxford English dictionary, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

Cite this Analytical Essay:

APA Format

Semantic Change and Meaninglessness (2011, January 14) Retrieved March 25, 2023, from

MLA Format

"Semantic Change and Meaninglessness" 14 January 2011. Web. 25 March. 2023. <>