by Marc Anderson

What Does That Really Mean? – How Words Have Changed

cute sea turtle

If you look at some of the words in the English language, you will see the meanings have changed over time. Some of these meanings have been influenced by technology in the case of Apple (computers) and Mini (Cooper – a car).  Others have been changed due to pop culture, street culture, and adaptations of speech for different populations of people (teenagers, movie stars, etc.). I am sure there are a lot more words than I could think of, but I thought I would start with these 31 English words.  You can read the original meaning of the word and then how the word meaning has changed. It doesn’t mean that the first definition is no longer used, just that the meaning has changed to an additional way to use the word today. Some of these words even have more than one new meaning. I included a sentence of the “new meaning”-words so you might better understand how the words have indeed changed in meaning. This might help you with your English language learning.

Apple:  originally meaning a round fruit that grows on trees; word is now associated with a high end brand of computers, iPods, etc. The Apple computer was used in the school system.

Beef:  originally meaning meat from a cow; word is now used commonly to express a problem with something. I don’t understand what her beef is; she is always complaining over something!

Crack:  originally meaning a break in an object; word is now used to describe cocaine in crystallized form, usually part of street slang. The crack addict was admitted into the drug treatment center in hopes of helping him break the habit.

Gold digger:  originally meaning a person looking and prospecting gold; word is now used for a woman who is only with a man because she wants his money. I don’t know what she sees in that older guy, but she might be just a gold digger as I heard he is quite rich.

Green:  originally meaning a color; word is now used for being environmentally friendly. The community prided itself on going “green” and so they offered places throughout town to recycle many different types of items:  glass, tin, paper, old clothing, etc.

Grill: originally meaning something to cook on; word is now used for a gold or diamond plate that is molded for your teeth. I heard that the actor got a grill before the rap performance.

Hammered:  originally used to show action of pounding a nail or piece of wood, etc. with a tool; word is now used to describe someone who is in a very drunk state of being. The bachelor got hammered at the party in his honor.

High: originally meaning to describe height; word is now used for the state a person is in after taking a considerable amount of drugs, particularly marijuana or something totally unrelated to drugs that a person enjoys. She got high on reading romance novels, but he got high on marijuana AND I heard paddle boarding is the next fitness high.

Hit: originally used as striking someone or something to cause injury, OR to swing a baseball bat and connect a ball, OR to describe something that is well-liked; word is now used as a dose of drugs or the action of taking a dose of drugs. She took a hit, although she wanted to stop the drugs for good.

Hood:  originally a piece of clothing to cover the head; word is now used for a gangster slang word. The hood was seen going into the gas station.

Hoodie:  originally the name of a hooded sweatshirt; word is now used for the person who wears such an item and is stereotyped for someone causing trouble on the streets. The hoodie rounded the corner by the park and then disappeared out of sight.

Hot:  originally used to describe the warmth of something in terms of hot and cold; word is now used to describe someone who is physically attractive. It’s amazing that my girlfriend looks so hot, even though she is nearing 50-years-old!

Ill:  originally used to describe a sickness; word is now used to describe something cool or generally approved of by people. That car looks ill and I wish I had the money to buy one for myself one of these days.

Joint:  originally used to mean a bend in a part of your body; word is now used as a place to frequent or a hand-rolled cigarette. I wanted to meet my friends at the joint for coffee, but it was closed OR The movie star smoked a joint before he saddled his horse and rode off to herd the cattle.

Jump:  originally used to show action of moving one’s body in the air and off the ground OR in the case of a car not starting, it means to help start the car by using (jumping) cables to transmit power (i.e. to jump the car); word is now used to mean beat up or fight. The robber jumped the store owner and wanted to rob the store.

Junkie: originally used to mean someone who collects junk (i.e., what is considered useless things); word is now used as a person consumed by any addiction (bad or good). The food junkie ate snacks all day OR My friend is a scrapbook junkie and puts together scrapbooks of every summer trip she has ever taken, but I am a fitness junkie and must work out every day! OR He seems to be an English language junkie as he is always taking language classes online.

Mini:  originally used to describe something small; word is now used to name a type of car, the Mini-Cooper. I surprised my daughter for her graduation and bought her a new Mini-Cooper in her favorite color. Being such a small, compact car I thought it would be good on gas mileage.

Mint:  originally used as a type of herb OR a place to make/print money for a country that is supervised by the government; now is used to mean cool or good. That sound system is mint! The quality of the music sounds amazing. Where did you buy it?

Moon:  originally used to name the natural satellite that orbits the Earth; now is used to describe the action of exposing one’s buttocks. For a prank, the student dared another to moon the kids on the bus. But he did not get a response.

Muffin top:  originally used to name the top of a muffin that you eat; now is used to describe the roll of fat between the jeans and a crop top. Try as I might, it was difficult to get rid of my muffin top but I was determined to continue exercising and dieting. One of these days, it would disappear!

Rave:  originally used to describe approval of something; now is used as a dance party that lasts all night and has synthesized music played. The college kids wanted to go to the rave party held downtown at the hotel.

Rocks:  originally used to mean a naturally occurring aggregate of minerals or a piece of stone; now is used as a word for jewels or jewelry or something that is no longer working out. Did you see her rock? She just got engaged to Tom and the ring he picked out is really beautiful. OR Their relationship seems to be on the rocks. I don’t know if they will be seeing much of each other anymore.

Sandwich: originally used to name something that you eat that is placed between two pieces of bread; now is used to describe other things and people in between something else (like people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children are labeled the sandwich generation). The sandwich generation is going to get burned out. It is difficult enough taking care of one’s family, let alone your elderly parents. It is especially difficult if they are ill or suffer from dementia.

Sick: originally used to mean ill; now is used to describe something that is well-liked or awesome. I liked that condo the best; did you see how sick it was?

Snail: originally used to name a small, living creature; now is used to describe something that takes a long time (like the mail – snail mail). I can send the document online or by snail mail.  Which do you prefer? If you need it today, then I better scan it, otherwise I will drop it in the mail.

Spam: originally used to describe a canned meat; now is used to describe unsolicited mail or email sent out in mass quantities. I am surprised how much spam I get in my email. I wish that I didn’t get any. It takes so long to clean up.

Sweet: originally used to describe something that tastes pleasurable like candy (and to mean the opposite of sour); now is used to express satisfaction, acceptance, pleasure, approval of something or someone. The Christmas bonus of $100.00 was sweet! My boss is the best.

Tight: originally used to mean the opposite of loose; now is used to describe someone not wanting to spend money OR something well-liked or cool. My grandfather was very tight and would not spend any of his money on making my grandmother’s 80th birthday special OR That band is really tight; I like their music and especially the sound of their drummer. OR That language teacher is really tight; I can expect to learn lots of English from him.

24 and 7: originally used as counting numbers; now the numbers are used to express 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without stopping. Sometimes it seems that new mothers are on-call 24/7 as their babies might wake up at any time and they might need to be fed or changed.

Virus: originally used as a parasite that causes common diseases in animals and plants; now is used to mean a small program deliberately inserted into a computer program or system to attack the software by destroying files and erasing discs, etc. My computer got a virus today and I had to bring it in for service immediately.  I am afraid that the virus did a lot of damage.

Wasted:  originally used to describe something that is evil; now is used to describe something good or impressive OR to be very drunk. The movie was wasted; I liked all of the sound effects OR The older gentlemen seemed to be wasted at the party and someone offered him a cup of black coffee and a ride home.

I wonder if you have heard any of these words or maybe you even have used a few in your everyday English language conversation. Write to me and let me know. That would be ILL! SICK! SWEET! TIGHT!  Maybe you have some English words of your own that you know have changed meanings and you can add to this list. I would like to know those, too. You know, I have so much work to do that I am going to be working 24/7 for the next couple of days.  Have you ever had to do something 24/7? You can write to me and tell me all about that, too. Write to me anytime. After all, you’ll know where to find me… at work – 24/7.

About the author:

Marc Anderson is the co-founder and CEO of TalktoCanada. Since founding the company in 2006, he has grown it to over 25 staff with operations in 50 countries. Marc spends his time outside of TalktoCanada travelling, playing with his son and working on new business projects.