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Word Play

Connotation versus Denotation

When someone asks you what a word means, what’s the first thing you think of? Probably how the dictionary defines the word. That is the denotation, or “dictionary definition” of a word. We have been looking at the denotations of many words. That’s not the only way to define a word, though. Consider the following sentences:

The slender teenager walked down the street.

The scrawny teenager walked down the street.

Those sentences are almost exactly the same, except for the word we used to describe the teenager. Both of those words, slender and scrawny, have a similar denotation: They both mean thin. However, having a similar meaning doesn’t automatically mean they have a similar feeling.Connotation is the association connected to a word or the emotional suggestions a word brings. Words may have a positive connotation, a negative connotation, or a neutral connotation.

The kitchen was filled with the aroma of Jan’s cooking.

The kitchen was filled with the stench of Donna’s cooking.

Whose food would you rather eat? Probably Jan’s? Why? Both aroma and stench describe how things smell. It’s because you have an association with each of those words, and one is definitely positive while the other is strongly negative.

Connotations can help you figure out a general meaning of a word if you don’t know the word or if you don’t have enough context to figure out the exact meaning.

1. I smiled and looked for the food when I walked into the house, which was redolent with the smell of Jamie’s cooking.

Does Jamie’s cooking smell good or bad? _____________

How do you know? _______________________

Does redolent have a positive connotation or a negative connotation?

___________________________________

2. I grimaced and pinched my nose when I walked into the house, which was noxious with the smell of Lee’s cooking.

Does Lee’s cooking smell good or bad? _____________

How do you know? _______________________

Does noxious have a positive connotation or a negative connotation?

___________________________________