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Denotation versus Connotation

May 21, 2011 Filed under Blog, Writing 

In Eloquent Science, I mention understanding the difference between denotation (the literal meaning of a word) and connotation (the idea or feeling that the word evokes in the listener).

This idea hit home recently when I was co-writing a proposal with a British colleague. He had written the word “envisage”, which I thought sounded a bit overblown in the context. Instead, I changed the word to “envision”. He returned to say that he felt “envision” sounded too pompous. I found this page suggesting that it is a continental difference in how we use these two words, with UK and British Commonwealth countries preferring envisage and North Americans to prefer envision.

So, although both words have the same denotation, the connotation varies depending on who your audience is. If you don’t want to appear pretentious, be careful in your choices.

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