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Related: context - definition - denotation - interpretation - meaning - semantics


In logic and in some branches of semantics, connotation is more or less synonymous with intension. Connotation is often contrasted with denotation, which is more or less synonymous with extension. See these articles for further information.

In everyday usage, connotation has a different meaning. To explain this meaning, it is helpful to explicate the partial theory or meaning that it presupposes. The theory goes like this: every word or phrase has two kinds of meaning: primary, literal meanings (sometimes called denotations), and secondary meanings known as connotations. Connotations are thought to color what a word "really means" with emotion or value judgments.

For example, a stubborn person may be described as being either strong-willed or pig-headed. Although these have the same literal meaning (i.e. stubborn), strong-willed connotes admiration for someone's convictions, while pig-headed connotes frustration in dealing with someone.

Note that not all theories of linguistic meaning honor the distinction between literal meaning and connotations. (See Literal and figurative language.) Nonetheless, the distinction probably feels intuitively correct and seems useful to most native English speakers.

A desire for increased positive connotations (or fewer negative ones) is one of the main reasons for using euphemisms.

It is often useful to avoid words with strong connotations (especially disparaging ones) when striving to achieve a neutral point of view. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connotation [Aug 2004]

Intension (logic)

The sum of the attributes contained in a term. --AH

Denotation, Connotation and Myth

Beyond its 'literal' meaning (its denotation), a particular word may have connotations: for instance, sexual connotations. 'Is there any such thing as a single entendre?' quipped the comic actor Kenneth Williams (we all know that 'a thing is a phallic symbol if it's longer than it's wide', as the singer Melanie put it). In semiotics, denotation and connotation are terms describing the relationship between the signifier and its signified, and an analytic distinction is made between two types of signifieds: a denotative signified and a connotative signified. Meaning includes both denotation and connotation. --Daniel Chandler, Semiotics for Beginners http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem06.html [Jul 2004]

Connotation and Denotation

The distinction between connotation and denotation is commonly associated with the philosopher John Stuart Mill, though it is much older. It is intended to reflect the different ways in which a common name may be significant. The connotation of the name is the attribute or attributes implied by the name. The denotation of the name is any object to which the name applies.

For example, the word "city" connotes the attributes of largeness, populousness. It denotes individual objects such as London, New York, Paris.

It should not to be confused (though it often is) with the distinction between sense and reference, though it has some affinity with his distinction between concept and object. Contemporary philosophers employ the terms intension and extension for connotation and denotation respectively.

Mill's definition of the term "connotation" is altogether different from that used by Scholastic logicians. In scholastic logic, a "connotative" term was originally what would now be called an adjective, "signifying an attribute as qualifying a subject". For example, "brave", as used to say or imply of some particular person that they are brave. By contrast, the abstract noun "bravery" was thought to signify something independent of the subject, an "independent entity", thus is non-connotative. The distinction is connected with the metaphysical one between substance and attribute.--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connotation_and_denotation [Aug 2004]

Linguistics [...]

There is a related distinction in linguistics between the objective meaning or denotation of a word such as "vulgar", and the positive or negative association or connotation we attach to such a word. "Vulgar" derives from the Latin word for "common" and literally means ubiquitous, found everywhere, and was its original meaning. The word has now acquired the negative connotation of "gross" or "crudely obscene" (also of showy ostentatiousness). The process of acquiring a negative connotation is known as pejoration. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connotation_and_denotation [Aug 2004]

Pornography vs Obscenity

The first, and easiest definitional issue is that between obscenity and pornography. The term obscenity, whose Latin root, obscensus, means "filthy" or "repulsive", was originally used by 18th century English judges to describe and censor sexually suggestive poems and stories. In the U.S. the term has taken on a very specific legal meaning, such that any content deemed obscene by the Miller test (Miller v. California, 1973) is considered illegal. This is in contrast to pornography -- whose Greek root pornographos, which means "writing about harlots" -- which is given full protection under the U.S. Constitution (Tedford, 1993). Thus, despite pornography's pejorative connotation, it is entirely legal and separate from the legalistic "obscenity."

--Christopher Hunter http://www.asc.upenn.edu/usr/chunter/porn_effects.html [Aug 2004]

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