Pencil Stubs Online
Reader Recommends


Word Meanings Change Like Everything Else

By LC Van Savage

Listening to conversations today, I’m astonished at how different the meanings are of so many words used now from when I learned them as a kid.

For example, I live in an area called “XX Estates.” Estates?? When I grew up, estates were huge areas of velvet lawns and gardens, enormous mansions in their midsts, countless servants and buzzers to summon them, gardeners, conservatories and huge cars, long, curving driveways, gatehouses, horses and elegant parties on weekday nights with ladies wearing large, summery hats, hands, arms, throats and lobes flashing real jewelry.

Today’s estates are any plots of land of any size with a building somewhere on it. And while I never lived on an estate, I sure saw them and the term was used with a sort of hushed reverence. “They live on an estate you know.”

I hear the weather people – oh sorry, meteorologists, talk about a “storm” coming. Today a simple drizzle is a storm. Storms, when we were young, were wildly exciting and dangerous. The tore off roofs, tore down trees, flooded roadways, blew out windows, blew down bridges and they were also very loud! Today’s storms are rainfalls with maybe a little wind accompaniment. Wimp weather. Storms, snow or rain, should be big, sexy and obnoxious, not just a wee bit of gravity- controlled moisture.

And yachts? Please. Yachts used to be only owned by the DuPonts, Rockefellers, Astors, Mellons, Kennedys and Morgans. They were huge and teak and had gigantic sails. They also had a huge staff to polish things and prepare enormous gourmet luncheons, set up shipboard games and pour thousands of gallons of champagne into huge crystal goblets. Today’s yachts are small, normal boats, often fiberglass, some with loud, stinking motors, and most small enough to haul into one’s driveway for the winter.

Now let’s talk about “premiers.” When a big TV show is about to come on, it’s touted as a “premier.” Doesn’t that word mean “first” or “earliest?” And don’t those two words imply something is to follow? See, when I read that a TV movie is about to premier, to me it means there’ll be multiple follow-ups. So what’s that all about? Great, gaudy ads blast that a new film will premier in one month. Then what?

Where did all the limos go, I ask you. I’ll never forget my first limo-come-uppance when as a young woman, I was flying somewhere and the travel agent told me a limo would meet me to take me to wherever. I forget. I thought “Cool! A limo!” I walked outside the airport and waited and looked and finally, some guy in a ratty old van with rust spots and a broken door, filled with sweaty, angry people approached me and said, “You waitin’ onna limo?” I allowed as how I was, he grabbed my suitcase and nudged me over to that chariot of decay and off we went.

I believed back then that one rode in limos just a couple of times in one’s life; one’s wedding day and one’s funeral. Certainly never to a prom. That night one stuffed one’s self while wearing a huge, tulle strapless gown and crinolines, into the boy’s father’s station wagon with wooden sides. Limos were big and long, black and purry, leathery and luxurious. Now, those were limousines. Today limos are any moving vehicle that takes people anywhere. One can no longer impress anyone by announcing that one will be “taking a limo to the airport.” We now understand that it might be a smoky van with torn upholstery, a blaring radio and a driver, who like I, would much rather be in a real limo.

Ah well. Language like all things, evolves and changes and I’d best keep up with things. See you at the premier. I’ll arrive in my limo from our estate after our vacation on our yacht. Hope there’s no storm.  

Refer a friend to this Article

Your Name -
Your Email -
Friend's Name - 
Friends Email - 


Reader Comments

Name: Melinda Cohenour Email: Unlisted
Comment: Another delightful commentary! Those were the days, days when discernment existed and true distinctions were made by choice of words. Our consumer-driven society has changed all that.



Name: John I. Blair Email:
Comment: As language professionals ourselves, Clara and I are often bemused by changes in our living tongue as we grow ever older. I suppose the mark of old age is when we stop accepting these changes as inevitable and start complaining about them. Oops, didn't mean to charge you with getting "old" My bad.



Post YOUR Comments!

Please enter the code in the image above into the box
below. It is Case-Sensitive. Blue is lowercase, Black
is uppercase, and red is numeric.

Horizontal Navigator



To report problems with this page, email Webmaster

Copyright © 2002 AMEA Publications