Printable Version
Pronunciation: kah-nê-tay-shên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A connotation is not the exact meaning (= denotation) but a vague implication, the semantic associations of a word or phrase. For example, the denotation of caviar is simply "sturgeon eggs" but it connotes wealth and indulgence.

Notes: This good word is the noun from the verb to connote; the adjective is connotative, as the connotative significance of a remark. An implication of a statement is a meaning directly and inevitably bound to it, as smoke implies fire. A connotation is a vaguer association, as a fork denotes (means) "an eating utensile with a handle and tines" but it connotes a spoon and a knife.

In Play: A word's connotation is more interesting than its denotation. The connotation of, "Dwight Mann accused Frances of being a card-carrying member of the ACLU," is that Frances is a communist and the ACLU is a communist organization. That is because "card-carrying" is associated with the phrase "card-carrying communist", prominent in the witch hunt for communists during the McCarthy Era in the US. Even the verb accused in the above sentence connotes that whatever Frances was doing is bad. Avoid guilt by connotation.

Word History: Today's Good Word derives from Medieval Latin connotare "to mark with" from con "with" + notare "to mark" (from nota "mark"). The root of notare started its life as Proto-Indo-European *gno- "know", which came down to English as know. In some of its variants a vowel was inserted between the two consonants at the beginning of this root. One of these variants became English cunning, from Old English cunnan "to know how to". Now that we know more about connotation, we can be more cunning in exploiting its semantic riches and avoiding its misuse.

Dr. Goodword,

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