Shrewd or cunning, modern or newfangled? Connotation in English

About Words - Cambridge Dictionary blog

by Liz Walter

RoughShod/iStock/Getty RoughShod/iStock/Getty

It has been said that there is no such thing as a synonym in English. That’s quite an extreme view, but it’s certainly true that words that look like synonyms often have subtle differences of usage. The one I’m going to look at in this post is that of connotation, i.e. the way the words we choose can reflect our own views on the subject we are talking about.

To give a rather obvious example, most people would probably be happy to be described as slim, slender or svelte (which all describe an attractive appearance), less happy with thin or skinny (which are more neutral or could even imply unattractiveness), offended by lanky or scrawny (negative descriptions), and upset by haggard, gaunt, or emaciated (which have connotations of ill health).

Connotation makes language rich and subtle, but it can be very difficult…

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