What is denotation?

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Denotation refers to the literal and/or actual meaning of a certain word. A word’s denotation is its strict meaning and is devoid of a secondary, hidden, emotional, or other meaning. The way a word is described in dictionaries for example refers to its denotation. The word “apple” for example may be described as a fruit that is often red in color. This description is the word’s literal meaning is corresponds to its denotation.

The concept of denotation can best be understood if the non-literal meaning of a certain word is also considered. This non-literal or secondary meaning refers to the connotation of the word. In connotations, a certain word may have an emotional meaning to it which is very much different from the word’s literal and actual meaning. The word “open” for example may have different denotations. As an adjective, “open” literally means to having an access or entry point into a certain space. As a noun, “open” may refer to a sports competition that imposes no restrictions to its participants. These are examples of the word’s denotation. Besides these literal meanings, the word “open” may also be used to describe a person who is “willing to do a certain thing”. This example pertains to a secondary or non-literal meaning of the word “open” and this corresponds to its connotation. There are also words that evolve through time and get a new meaning and so-called connotation. In the case of “politician”, its denotation describes a person who serves the government. In recent times, this word has evolved into a description of somebody who may be corrupt or involved in illegal activities.

For people to be viewed as intelligent or knowledgeable, understanding the denotation of words is always required. Knowing the other non-literal meaning of words in the form of connotations make people seem even more knowledgeable or smarter. Younger people may tend to develop an understanding for denotations early in school life but with experience and more lessons, the secondary and non-literal meaning of words will also be learned.