17 Jul 2013

What are Connotations?

Every word has a literal meaning - the dictionary definition. This is called the denotation. So far so simple.

Connotations means - what a word suggests to us, what it makes us think of and what we associate with it. For example, red connotes blood, danger, excitment or sexuality - but you won't find these ideas in the dictionary definition.

It's useful to look at connotations together with semantic fields. In other words - try to pick out a group of words. Think: what mood is the writer building up with this combination?

[1] 'red+ 'rose' + 'soft' = romance
[2] 'red' + 'tight dress' + 'provocative' = sexual allure
[3] 'red' + 'Ferrari' + 'chase' = dangerous thrill
[4] 'red' + 'heart beat faster' + 'knife' = fearful danger

How to write about this? 
[1] The fact that it's a 'red' rose suggests passion, romance and strength made gentle, or 'soft'.
[2] Her dress is 'red', a warning flag to the men that her 'provocative' sexuality is dangerous.
[3] The fact that it's a 'red' 'Ferrari' emphasises the danger, giving an adrenaline rush of fear and excitement.
[4] The word 'red' linked to 'knife' suggests danger, that this will be bloody.

Interesting Word Choices
Writers always have a choice of words. For example: light, bright, brilliant, dazzling, luminous, shining, glowing, radiating, glimmering, sparkling, ablaze, aglow, blazing, lustrous, flashing, vivid. So it's often useful to think what word the writer couldhave used instead. And why did they choose the one that they did? What's the effect?

Positive, Negative or Both?
Sometimes writers choose negative words. Sometimes positive. Sometimes the words are mixed. For example, 'fierce' can be good and bad at the same time. 'Fierce passion' shows strength, vitality but also danger. 'Dazzling light' might seem good, but to be 'dazzled' is to be temporarily blinded, which is not so good.
You may also like to think about whether this is emotive language.

What's the Difference? 
flame, spark, fire, flicker, blazing 

nibble, eat, consume, devour, guzzle 

vast, endless, large, monstrous, infinite 

creature, animal, beast, predator 

black, colourless, inky, darkness 

void, abyss, chaos, emptiness, nothing, hole 

dazzling, shining, light, radiant, glimmer, glow 

take, grab, hold, grip, crush, enfold 

stretch, strain, reach, lunge