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#1 2013-02-15 21:59:09

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 637

Terms that change meaning

I guess this fits into this category as well as any…

Many (most?) terms change meaning over long periods of time; any glance at an etymological dictionary will confirm that. But I have occasionally seen changes in meaning within very, very short time periods. For instance, the N-Gram shows the term “uptight” not existing until around 1965, when it showed up in Stevie Wonder’s hit song “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, wherein it had a distinctly positive connotation (“Baby, everything is alright, uptight and outtasight!”). But very shortly after that, “uptight” came to mean anxious, distressed—nearly the opposite of Wonder’s usage.

Around 1968, I first encountered the term “mindfuck” in the underground paper The Chicago Seed. It referred to an ecstatic state resulting from drug use. But ever since then, mindfuck, in its various forms (“Don’t fuck with my mind”, etc.), has referred to someone “messing with someone’s head”, i.e., playing some sort of unpleasant psychological games with them.

Around 1970, give or take a year, I first heard a form of the term “ripoff” in a conversation with a friend. He referred to someone’s having been killed as having been “ripped off”. The image I got was of someone being snatched off the planet—killed. But ever after that, I only heard ripoff used in reference to theft, not killing.

In some cases, perhaps the first usage I encountered was simply an example of someone misusing a term that was new to them, so that the correct usages I heard thereafter seemed like a change in meaning when they really weren’t. But I’m wondering if something else may be happening in some of these situations.

Does anyone else here have similar experiences to report?

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#2 2013-02-16 05:06:29

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2149

Re: Terms that change meaning

Uptight. The OED cites an outlier “up tight,” with the meaning of tense, as early as 1934, and there are a number of citations from the mid 60s with the same sense. Seems to me more likely that the jazz subculture permuted “uptight” to an opposed meaning, as it did so many other words (e.g., “bad,” “cool”), than that the mainline culture switched the meaning of a subculture word.

The Chicago Seed. Flashbacks. I remember the first issues of this being handed out/vended in Old Town in the late 1960s, when I lived there. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/But to be young was very heaven!

Last edited by kem (2013-02-16 05:24:11)

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#3 2013-02-16 05:51:27

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 637

Re: Terms that change meaning

kem wrote:

The Chicago Seed. Flashbacks. I remember the first issues of this being handed out/vended in Old Town in the late 1960s, when I lived there.

Yeah, an issue of the Chicago Seed, brought back from Chicago to my conservative small town of St. Joseph, Michigan by my buddy Duke, was my first look at an underground paper, and a real eye-opener for this Christian fundamentalist teenager with a flat-top haircut! Could acid be far behind?

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#4 2013-02-16 14:04:55

burred
Eggcornista
From: Montreal
Registered: 2008-03-17
Posts: 948

Re: Terms that change meaning

The bit-of-nostalgia-for-the-old-folks front-of-the-wave distorted song lyric I remember was from the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Do you believe in magic.

Your feet start tapping and you can’t seem to find
How you got there, so just blow your mind

You can’t blow your own mind unless even you are surprised by your brilliance.

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