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Connotation

Connotation refers to the level of meaning a word has that cannot be fully captured by a dictionary definition of the word; rather, it can only be described by the emotional associations it evokes in the listener. For example, at the level of denotation, the phrase "to have suspicions" simply means to believe that something may be true; however, at the level of connotation, it usually means that the person believes something negative.

Definition

Connotation is a well-known cultural or emotional association that a particular word or phrase carries through it use. Put more simply, connotation is a suggestion made by the use of a particular word in a literary piece, poem, or speech. Connotation can also signify another idea or concept through its usage, and can be negative or positive. The literal meaning (denotation) of a word is different from the connotation it infers. Connotation is an implied judgment or value placed on a word through the way it makes the author, speaker, or audience feel. Euphemisms are often used in order to avoid the strong connotations of certain words.

Connotation examples

Many words have more than one meaning, but with connotations the meanings may be more subtle or culturally influenced. Another word for connotation is implication.

Example 1: Childlike

My mother’s actions were childlike as she searched for her keys again.

The mother is not truly a child, but the connotations of the word suggest that she may be suffering from dementia or senility. The word “childlike” has both negative and positive connotations in this sentence. The word also seems to be used by the author as a term of endearment for his or her aging mother.

Example 2: Fat

The old man was fat; his surroundings reflected this.

Although fat simply means overweight, the implication is that he is also slovenly. The word “fat” here has negative connotations.

Example 3: Youthful 

The rabbit had a youthful look about its whiskers.

Youthful has positive connotations in this sentence, conveying the hope and brilliance of youth.

Connotation does not have to be contained in just one word; an entire sentence, paragraph, written work, or speech can contain numerous connotations.

Socially negative words such as words referring derogatorily to women, people of color, or the attitude or physical state of a person carry much connotation, and are considered rude in everyday conversation.

Some examples are “chick,” “miserly,” “pushy,” “uppity,” and any type of racial or gender-based slur.

In order to understand negative versus positive connotation, here are some pairs of word which mean the same thing but have different connotations. The first is positive and the second is negative.

Example 1: Sagacious – Know-it-all

Example 2: Dominant – Bossy

Example 3: Determined – Headstrong

Example 4: Relaxed – Lazy

Connotation used in literature

In literature, connotation is used often in order to convey an idea, concept, or observation without directly stating it. George Orwell used connotation in his novel Animal Farm, allowing the political and social connotations of the farm animals to shine through more and more toward the end of the novel. It quickly becomes apparent that the novel is an allegory for corrupt governments of the time, and that the pigs in the story have corrupt, negative connotations as those in power sometimes do. Many words in literature have the connotations that an individual assigns to them. These may be the same or different than the connotations that the author or speaker intended to convey; this is the way readers and audiences interpret words and glean from them individual meanings. Connotation is similar to symbolism because a word may represent something different than what its simplest meaning is. Therefore, the word may represent another idea or concept in the same way that a symbol represents an idea or concept without being an actual word. Irony and satire, as used in Animal Farm inherently exhibit connotation because many of the words used were never intended to retain their simplest meanings; connotation is at the heart of these literary devices.

In logic, connotation indicates an essential property or group of properties of a thing which is named by a term. Connotation can also be described as the intention of a word or phrase.

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