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in shape and function. Anthropomorphic1 metaphors are among the most frequent. The way in which the words denoting parts of the body are made to express a variety of meanings may be illustrated by the following: head of an army/of a procession/of a household; arms and mouth of a river, eye of a needle, foot of a hill, tongue of a bell and so on and so forth. The transferred meaning is easily recognised from the context: ...her feet were in low-heeled brown brogues with fringed tongues (Plomber).
Numerous cases of metaphoric transfer are based upon the analogy between duration of time and space, e. g. long distance : : long speech; a short path : : a short time.
The transfer of space relations upon psychological and mental notions may be exemplified by words and expressions concerned with understanding: to catch (to grasp) an idea; to take a hint; to get the hang of; to throw light upon.
This metaphoric change from the concrete to the abstract is also represented in such simple words as score, span, thrill. Score comes from OE scoru ‘twenty’ < ON skor ‘twenty’ and also ‘notch’. In OE time notches were cut on sticks to keep a reckoning. As score is cognate with shear, it is very probable that the meaning developed from the twentieth notch that was made of a larger size. From the meaning ‘line’ or ‘notch cut or scratched down’ many new meanings sprang out, such as ‘number of points made by a player or a side in some games’, ‘running account’, ‘a debt’, ‘written or printed music’, etc. Span <OE spann — maximum distance between the tips of thumb and little finger used as a measure of length — came to mean ‘full extent from end to end’ (of a bridge, an arch, etc.) and ‘a short distance’. Thrill < ME thrillen ‘to pierce’ developed into the present meaning ‘to penetrate with emotion.'
Another subgroup of metaphors comprises transitions of proper names into common ones: an Adonis, a Cicero, a Don Juan, etc. When a proper name like Falstaff is used referring specifically to the hero of Shakespeare’s plays it has a unique reference. But when people speak of a person they know calling him Falstaff they make a proper name generic for a corpulent, jovial, irrepressibly impudent person and it no longer denotes a unique being. Cf. Don Juan as used about attractive profligates. To certain races and nationalities traditional characteristics have been attached by the popular mind with or without real justification. If a person is an out-and-out mercenary and a hypocrite or a conformist into the bargain they call him a Philistine, ruthlessly destructive people are called Vandals, Huns, unconventional people — Bohemians.
As it has been already mentioned, if the transfer is based upon the association of contiguity it is called metînómy. It is a shift of names between things that are known to be in some way or other connected in reality or the substitution of the name of an attribute of a thing for the name of the thing itself.
1 Anthropo- indicates ‘human’ (from Gr anthropos ‘man’).
Thus, the word book is derived from the name of a tree on which inscriptions were scratched. ModE win <OE winnan ‘to fight’; the word has been shifted so as to apply to the success following fighting. Cash is an adaptation of the French word casse ‘box’; from naming the container it came to mean what was contained, i.e. money; the original meaning was lost in competition with the new word safe. The transfer may be conditioned by spatial, temporal, causal, symbolic, instrumental, functional and other connections. The resulting polysemy is called regular because it embraces whole classes of words.
Regular spatial relations are, for instance, present when the name of the place is used for the people occupying it. The chair may mean ‘the chairman’, the bar ‘the lawyers’, the pulpit ‘the priests’. The word town may denote the inhabitants of a town and the House — the members of the House of Commons or of Lords.
A causal relationship is obvious in the following development: ModE fear < ME fere/feer/fer < OE fær ‘danger’, ‘unexpected attack’. States and properties serve as names for objects and people possessing them: youth, age, authorities, forces. The name of the action can serve to name the result of the action: ModE kill < ME killen ‘to hit on the head’, ModE slay < Germ schlagen. Emotions may be named by the movements that accompany them: frown, start.1
There are also the well-known instances of symbol for thing symbolised: the crown for ‘monarchy’; the instrument for the product: hand for ‘handwriting’; receptacle for content, as in the word kettle (cf. the kettle is boiling), and some others. Words denoting the material from which an article is made are often used to denote the particular article: glass, iron, copper, nickel are well known examples.
The pars pro toto (also a version of metonymy) where the name of a part is applied to the whole may be illustrated by such military terms as the royal horse for ‘cavalry’ and foot for ‘infantry’, and by the expressions like I want to have a word with you. The reverse process (totum pro parte) is observed when OE ceol ‘a ship’ develops into keel ‘a lowest longitudinal frame of a ship’.
A place of its own within metonymical change is occupied by the so-called functional change. The type has its peculiarities: in this case the shift is between names of things substituting one another in human practice. Thus, the early instrument for writing was a feather or more exactly a quill (OE pen<OFr penne<It penna<Lat penna ‘feather’). We write with fountain-pens that are made of different materials and have nothing in common with feathers except the function, but the name remains. The name rudder comes from OE roder ‘oar’ || Germ Ruder ‘oar’. The shift of meaning is due to the shift of function: the steering was formerly achieved by an oar. The steersman was called pilot; with the coming of aviation one who operates the flying controls of an aircraft was also called pilot. For more cases of functional change see also the semantic history of the words: filter, pocket, spoon, stamp, sail v.
Common names may be metonymically derived from proper names as
1These last cases are studied in paralinguistics.
in macadam — a type of pavement named after its inventor John McAdam (1756-1836) and diesel or diesel engine — a type of compression ignition engine invented by a German mechanical engineer Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913). The process of nomination includes ellipsis (Diesel engine — diesel).
Many international physical and technical units are named after great scientists, as for instance ampere — the unit of electrical current after André Marie Ampère (1775-1836), a great French mathematician and physicist. Compare also: ohm, volt, watt, etc.
Transfers by contiguity often involve place names. There are many instances in political vocabulary when the place of some establishment is used not only for the establishment itself or its staff but also for its policy. The White House is the executive mansion of the president of the USA in Washington, the name is also used for his administration and politics. Similarly The Pentagon, so named, because it is a five-sided building, denotes the US military command and its political activities, because it contains the USA Defence Department and the offices of various branches of the US armed forces. Wall Street is the name of the main street in the financial district of New York and hence it also denotes the controlling financial interests of American capitalism.
The same type is observed when we turn to Great Britain. Here the British Government of the day is referred to as Downing Street because the Prime Minister’s residence is at No 10 Downing Street. The street itself is named after a 17th century British diplomat.
An interesting case is Fleet Street — a thoroughfare in central London along which many British newspaper offices are located, hence Fleet Street means British journalism. The name of the street is also metonymical but the process here is reversed — a proper toponymical noun is formed from a common noun: fleet is an obsolete term for ‘a creek or an inlet in the shore’. Originally the street extended along a creek.
Examples of geographical names, turning into common nouns to name the goods exported or originating there, are exceedingly numerous. Such transfer by contiguity is combined with ellipsis in the nomination of various stuffs and materials: astrakhan (fur), china (ware), damask (steel), holland (linen), morocco (leather).
The similarly formed names for wines or kinds of cheese are international as, for instance: champagne, burgundy, madeira; brie cheese, cheddar, roquefort, etc.
Sometimes the semantic connection with place names is concealed by phonetic changes and is revealed by etymological study. The word jeans can be traced to the name of the Italian town Genoa, where the fabric of which they are made was first manufactured. Jeans is a case of metonymy, in which the name of the material jean is used to denote an object made of it. This type of multiple transfer of names is quite common (cf. china, iron, etc.). The cotton fabric of which jeans are made was formerly used for manufacturing uniforms and work clothes and was known for several centuries as jean (from Med Lat Genes, Genoa).
The process can consist of several stages, as in the word cardigan — a knitted jacket opening down the front. Garments are often known
by the names of those who brought them into fashion. This particular jacket is named after the seventh earl of Cardigan whose name is from Cardigan or Cardiganshire, a county in Wales.
Other examples of denominations after famous persons are raglan and Wellingtons. Raglan — a loose coat with sleeves extending in one piece to the neckline — is named after field-marshal lord Raglan; Wellingtons or Wellington boots — boots extending to the top of the knee in front but cut low in back — were popularised by the first Duke of Wellington.
Following the lead of literary criticism linguists have often adopted terms of rhetoric for other types of semantic change, besides metaphor and metonymy. These are: hyperbole, litotes, irony, euphemism. In all these cases the same warning that was given in connection with metaphors and metonymy must be kept in mind: namely, there is a difference between these terms as understood in literary criticism and in lexicology. Hyperbole (from Gr hyperbolē ‘exceed’) is an exaggerated statement not meant to be understood literally but expressing an intensely emotional attitude of the speaker to what he is speaking about. E. g.: A fresh egg has a world of power (Bellow). The emotional tone is due to the illogical character in which the direct denotative and the contextual emotional meanings are combined.
A very good example is chosen by I. R. Galperin from Byron, and one cannot help borrowing it:
When people say “I’ve told you fifty times,”
The reader will note that Byron’s intonation is distinctly colloquial, the poet is giving us his observations concerning colloquial expressions. So the hyperbole here, though used in verse, is not poetic but linguistic.
The same may be said about expressions like: It’s absolutely maddening, You’ll be the death of me, I hate troubling you, It’s monstrous, It’s a nightmare, A thousand pardons, A thousand thanks, Haven’t seen you for ages, I'd give the world to, I shall be eternally grateful, I'd love to do it, etc.
The most important difference between a poetic hyperbole and a linguistic one lies in the fact that the former creates an image, whereas in the latter the denotative meaning quickly fades out and the corresponding exaggerating words serve only as general signs of emotion without specifying the emotion itself. Some of the most frequent emphatic words are: absolutely! lovely! magnificent! splendid! marvellous! wonderful! amazing! incredible! and so on.1
The reverse figure is called litotes (from Gr litos ‘plain’, ‘meagre’) or understatement. It might be defined as expressing the affirmative by the negative of its contrary, e. g. not bad or not half bad for ‘good’, not small for ‘great’, no coward for ‘brave’. Some
1 See awfully and terribly on p. 63.
understatements do not contain negations, e. g. rather decent; I could do with a cup of tea. It is, however, doubtful whether litotes should be considered under the heading of semantic change at all, because as a rule it creates no permanent change in the sense of the word used and concerns mostly usage and contextual meaning of words. Understatement expresses a desire to conceal or suppress one’s feelings, according to the code of reserve, and to seem indifferent and calm. E. g.:
“But this is frightful, Jeeves!”
“Certainly somewhat disturbing, sir.”(Wodehouse)
“Long time since we met.”
“It is a bit, isn’t it?” (Wodehouse)
The indifference may be superficial and suggest that the speaker’s emotions are too strong to be explicitly stated.
Understatement is considered to be a typically British way of putting things and is more characteristic of male colloquial speech: so when a woman calls a concert absolutely fabulous using a hyperbole a man would say it was not too bad or that it was some concert.
Understatement is rich in connotations: it may convey irony, disparagement and add expressiveness. E. g. rather unwise (about somebody very silly) or rather pushing (about somebody quite unscrupulous).
The term irony is also taken from rhetoric, it is the expression of one’s meaning by words of opposite sense, especially a simulated adoption of the opposite point of view for the purpose of ridicule or disparagement. One of the meanings of the adjective nice is ‘bad’, ‘unsatisfactory’; it is marked off as ironical and illustrated by the example: You’ve got us into a nice mess! The same may be said about the adjective pretty: A pretty mess you’ve made of it!
As to the euphemisms, that is referring to something unpleasant by using milder words and phrases so that a formerly unoffensive word receives a disagreeable meaning (e. g. pass away ‘die’), they will be discussed later in connection with extralinguistic causes of semantic change and later still as the origin of synonyms.
Changes depending on the social attitude to the object named, connected with social evaluation and emotional tone, are called amelioration and pejoration of meaning, and we shall also return to them when speaking about semantic shifts undergone by words, because their referents come up or down the social scale. Examples of amelioration are OE cwen ‘a woman’ >ModE queen, OE cniht ‘a young servant’ > ModE knight. The meaning of some adjectives has been elevated through associations with aristocratic life or town life. This is true about such words as civil, chivalrous, urbane. The word gentle had already acquired an evaluation of approval by the time it was borrowed into English from French in the meaning ‘well-born’. Later its meaning included those characteristics that the high-born considered appropriate to their social status: good breeding, gracious behaviour, affability. Hence the noun gentleman, a kind of key-word in the history of English, that originally meant ‘a man of gentle (high) birth’ came to mean ‘an honourable and well-bred person’.
The meaning of the adjective gentle which at first included only social values now belongs to the ethical domain and denotes ‘kind’, ‘not rough’, ‘polite’. A similar process of amelioration in the direction of high moral qualities is observed in the adjective noble — originally ‘belonging to the nobility’.
The reverse process is called pejoration or degradation; it involves a lowering in social scale connected with the appearance of a derogatory and scornful emotive tone reflecting the disdain of the upper classes towards the lower ones. E. g.: ModE knave<OE cnafa || Germ Knabe meant at first ‘boy’, then ‘servant’, and finally became a term of abuse and scorn. Another example of the same kind is blackguard. In the lord’s retinue of Middle Ages served among others the guard of iron pots and other kitchen utensils, black with soot. From the immoral features attributed to these servants by their masters comes the present scornful meaning of the word blackguard ‘scoundrel’. A similar history is traced for the words: boor, churl, clown, villain. Boor (originally ‘peasant’ || Germ Bauer) came to mean ‘a rude, awkward, ill-mannered person’. Churl is now a synonym to boor. It means ‘an ill-mannered and surly fellow’. The cognate German word is Kerl which is emotionally and evaluatory neutral. Up to the thirteenth century ceorl denoted the lowest rank of a freeman, later — a serf. In present-day English the social component is superseded by the evaluative meaning. A similar case is present in the history of the word clown: the original meaning was also ‘peasant’ or ‘farmer’. Now it is used in two variants: ‘a clumsy, boorish, uncouth and ignorant man’ and also ‘one who entertains, as in a circus, by jokes, antics, etc’. The French borrowing villain has sustained an even stronger pejorisation: from ‘farm servant’ it gradually passed to its present meaning ‘scoundrel’.
The material of this chapter shows that semantic changes are not arbitrary. They proceed in accordance with the logical and psychological laws of thought, otherwise changed words would never be understood and could not serve the purpose of communication. The various attempts at classification undertaken by traditional linguistics, although inconsistent and often subjective, are useful, since they permit the linguist to find his way about an immense accumulation of semantic facts. However, they say nothing or almost nothing about the causes of these changes.