Moon :) asked in Society & CultureLanguages · 1 decade ago

How subjective the meaning of words and expressions in English can be :) ?

English is not my first language. In two years of YA, I've asked some questions about the meaning of words and expressons in English, and I never had all native speakers agree about them. In one occasion, I couldn't get one single satisfaying answer, and I still don't know the answer to that question, many months later.

Your thoughts, please?

Thank you! :)

Have a wonderful day! :)

Update 2:

Zalem - I'm not talking about your answer, your answer is right :) I, too, looked at the dictionary, as I always do, before asking the question. What I mean is, read the other answers, and you'll see that people don't agree about when/how to use those words.

Update 3:

byteofk - my first language is Portuguese.

There's no need to be agressive...

16 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    English is a stupid language.Let me give you an example....

    My son comes home and says "Can I go to the beach tommorow".

    And I reply "no you have school"..

    and he says "School is Gay"

    then I say.. "Well you are going to school anyway".

    What is wrong with this conversation?

    "Gay" I look it up in the dictionary....... it could mean homosexual... but not in this context.

    "Gay" could mean fun or jovial... but that doesn't give it the negative connotation...

    So what does he mean? Well, I know from experience that when a teenage kid in 2007 in Sydney says "School is Gay" he means that "School sux"... (which is what a teenage kid in 1976 would have said).

    But it isn't in the dictionary. English is a stupid language influenced by context, generational usage and even region to region.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Yes, I know what you mean. I think that often, it's simply a matter of the context; if a word is used a certain way, it can mean a completely different thing than when it's used in a different way. Also, some formal words are used as slang words regularly, especially here on Yahoo! Answers. Therefore, the slang definition and the formal definition could give you a completely different meaning. I guess it's something you simply have to get used to.

    That's why I often wish every country spoke the same languages. I've known a little Spanish, a little French, a little Italian, and a little Japanese. Unfortunately, I've forgotten most of what I knew. But when I was more fluent with them than I am now, I remember hearing some things, and thinking, "What the heck.." because it made no sense. It can be so difficult when you're not a native speaker.


  • 1 decade ago

    English is a contextual language. By that I mean that the words don't really function independently. Many words have several meanings and the intended meaning is revealed through the surrounding words and the situation.

    Secondly English is not a pure language in the sense that it is a mixture of many different languages. English history shows that Anglo-Saxon (the Germanic root of the 'Anglish' language) was superimposed over a Latin base which itself replaced Celtic and earlier languages. To this mess was added French, Scandanavian languages and then words from almost every culture that England touched (which was many)

    Thirdly there is often a confusion between literal and figurative meanings. Literal meanings are the regular dictionary meanings but native English speakers like to play with the language and there are many figurative (symbolic) or sarcastic (opposite) meanings out there to confuse second language learners.

    Simply put, English doesn't conform to rules or definitions very easily. This flexibility can be frustrating but also fun for those who can find a way to use its unwieldly power.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    As a writer I believe no two words in English mean exactly the same. Many words have similar roots - or they can come from words with similar meaning in other languages which have fed into English. But in the process they acquire different associations and therefor different "meanings". E.G. "mutton" coming from the French refers to cooked sheep meat (as eaten by the French invaders under William) as distinct from "sheep" from old English, etc, referring to the uncooked animal. Thus, a port is different from a harbour, and so on. It's the variations of association, and the variations geographically, that make interpretation so subjective - and I believe make English so rich, like an orchestra both in meaning and sound. But then, I am biased. I adore this mongrel tongue! But admit others, like Italian and German are better suited to particular purposes, with rhythms of their own. English can be a minefield for a writer! I've spent nearly half a day on occasions looking for the ideal phrase etc, not only to express what I intend, but to discover what I mean! And then re-written it ten times. So don't despair - plunge into the glorious ocean!

    Source(s): Reading, writing, and talking, for more than 70 years
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  • 1 decade ago

    Well in America at least, each region has it's own slang and way of speaking. When I moved from Connecticut which is in the northeast portion of the US to Indiana which is in the Midwest, it was like I needed to learn English all over again because I'd say things and get strange looks. Then once I picked up that slang and went back home people told me to stop talking like a southerner.

    Many English words also have more than one meaning if you look them up in a dictionary so it is also not unusual to get two or three different meanings when asked. What a lot of words really mean often depends upon usage.

  • Gerry
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago


    without really answering the specifics to your question - the reality is that 10 different people will answer your 1 question in 10 different ways. Maybe the best thing is to accept the one response that has the closest answer to what you are seeking. This way, and as in other categories unrelated to words, you can make the best of both the educated knowledge you possess and the "meaning" that you were seeking.

    It can be a little frustrating at times I know; however, YOUR use of the english language is much better than say mine or most other people I know. I applaud you for the lengths you go to for your own knowledge and understanding.

    Have a wonderful evening!

    Gerry :)

  • Jane
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    I love simple straight to the point answers. I don't like people who use big words to say NOTHING. Its like they are trying to fool people into thinking they're intelligent just by having a vocabulary. Maybe they're educated but not necessarily intelligent. Learning everything there is to know about children, is not the same as raising children. I will listen to a successful mother before I listen to some childless feminist with a master's in child development. Thinking fast alone does not make you a better thinker. Its not a matter of speed, its a matter of process. Do you think correctly?

  • 1 decade ago

    Yes, those words have the same meaning, they are only a shade different in the way they are commonly used. The only difference between them is that you can be grateful for a situtation you created for yourself, but you usually wouldn't say that you are thankful for it--you are usually only thankful if you are giving someone else or God credit for the situation.

    If you ever switch those two words, no one will say you misused them. Your meaning would still be clear and you would be understood correctly, and that is really the reason we use language. I'm sure that if you meet someone who speaks your language well but is not a native, you'll find that they use phrases you haven't heard or structure their sentences in an unusual, but not incorrect, way that makes them sound a little funny when they speak, but since you understand them, you ignore the words and hear the meaning.

  • 1 decade ago

    Anyone studying another language is faced with the same problem. If you ask native speakers to define words you get different definitions from everyone. How words are used often depends on collocation - how the choice of a word depends on the other words in the same sentence. It also depends sometimes on idiolect - one person's preference for one word over another.

    There is no diference between 'thankful' and 'grateful'. If you look at some of the definitions provided they need to use one of the terms to define the other.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    What is your language, don't you have synonyms in your language? It's certainly the same in German which is my second language, sometimes you can swap words out and sometimes you can't because it just sounds dumb.

    Would you do that for me, I would be thankful.

    Never hear that! Only grateful. It's the subtle differences that make a native sound like a native.

    That and you are asking questions to a world audience where many variations of English are spoken.

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