Meaning changes
Posted: 25 November 2013 09:40 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I was watching a show set in the future and heard the line “Chuck in some music” which struck me as an odd line for the future and that was immediately reinforced by the fact that someone simply touched something and music started playing. The idea that music would require “chucking” in any way seems old fashioned for today let alone the future.

But it did cause me to look up “chuck” and see the verb form meaning to throw is from the 1590s!

That really surprised me as it seems like a slangy kind of word that one would expect to have a limited history. I’m so used to meanings changing over time that it seems somewhat unusual to find such an informal word retaining the same meaning for centuries.

Is it actually unusual, or are these sorts of informal, conversational words less susceptible to change? Is there any rhyme or reason to why some words change and some don’t?

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Posted: 25 November 2013 11:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Nothing to offer on your question but I know exactly what you mean about chuck. The word has a modern feel to it, so much so that its use in the 1593 cite from Prodigal Son takes one aback at first.

1593 Prodigal Son iv. 112 Yes, this old one will I give you (Chucks him old hose and doublet).

[ Edited: 25 November 2013 11:30 PM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 26 November 2013 03:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I too was surprised by this one. I had no idea it was that old.

But there is nothing unusual about a word, particularly one with a straightforward and physical meaning, retaining the same sense over centuries. We talk a lot about the words that shift in meaning because the shifts are noteworthy or interesting. That can give the false impression that all words shift, but they don’t. Many (most?) retain the same meaning for centuries. I don’t think informality has anything to do with it.

I avoid the use of the term slang here because that word is notoriously difficult to define. Chuck is an informal alternative to a standard word (i.e., throw), but if you associate slang with particular groups or generations, then it clearly doesn’t qualify as slang. (The same goes for cool, except that word is complicated by the fact that it also has a standard sense relating to temperature.)

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Posted: 26 November 2013 07:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I avoid the use of the term slang here because that word is notoriously difficult to define.

If you avoid words that are difficult to define, you’re going to have a limited vocabulary.  Just because slang is hard to pin down exactly (just as are, for instance, man, woman, war, peace, mind, and matter) don’t mean it shouldn’t be used, with the appropriate caveats when necessary.  (Good recent books on the subject are Slang: The People’s Poetry by Michael Adams and The Life of Slang by Julie Coleman.) It is, of course, important to separate as far as possible slang from informal vocabulary, and you are correct that chuck is the latter.

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Posted: 26 November 2013 08:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I meant in this particular context, where the use of slang adds a complication without illuminating anything, hence the “here.” I have no problem talking about slang in other contexts.

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