Jose Carillo's English Forum

Open Forum => Students’ Sounding Board => Topic started by: Justine Aragones on May 29, 2015, 08:24:54 PM



Title: Shades of Meaning in Language
Post by: Justine Aragones on May 29, 2015, 08:24:54 PM
What do you mean by shades of meaning in language? Can we use this sentence as an example:

I cannot always choose what happens to me, I can always choose what happens in me.

How does the italicized prepositions change the essence of the sentence?


Title: Re: Shades of Meaning in Language
Post by: Joe Carillo on May 31, 2015, 01:27:28 AM
Shades of meaning are the small, subtle differences in meaning between words or phrases that denote very similar things or very close attributes. Those differences could be (1) in the level of intensity of a particular attribute, as in the words “lukewarm,” “tepid,” and “halfhearted” (“cold” and “hot” won’t be shades of meaning of these three attributes because they differ greatly in heat intensity or strength of feeling); (2) in the level of certainty of knowing, as in the words “sure,” “certain,” and “positive” (“doubting” and “distrustful” won’t  be shades of meaning of these three attributes as they are of opposite polarity in terms of certitude); (3) in the level of female youthfulness, as in the words “girl,” “lass,” and “maiden” (“woman” and “matron” won’t be shades of meaning of these three attributes as they denote females of more advanced age); and (4) in the level of so many other attributes of words, ideas, and things that we encounter in life. The important thing to keep in mind is that when the differences in the attributes of particular words are not small or subtle, they can’t be considered to have shades of meaning but to have altogether different meanings or denotations.

Now, as to this sentence that you presented, I don’t think it’s a suitable example for illustrating shades of meaning: “I cannot always choose what happens to me, I can always choose what happens in me.” It’s an aphorism—a terse formulation of a perceived truth—in the form of a rhetorical device called the antanaclasis, which repeats a phrase in two different senses in an elegant, scrupulously parallel construction. In this particular case, the difference in sense is achieved by using a different preposition for each of the phrases: “to” in “what happens to me,” and “in” in “what happens in me.” The denotation of “what happens to me”—the outcomes of one’s outward life as a result of external forces—is entirely different from the denotation of “what happens in me”—the outcomes in one’s mind (mental health) and body (physical health) as a result of both external and internal forces. Because of their use of different prepositions, “what happens to me” and “what happens in me” are entirely different from each another. Each has a different denotation and essence; as such, they are definitely not shades of meaning of the same attribute.