Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Word Debate (busybody: what does it mean to you?)

Time for a vocabulary discussion.

The word: busybody.

The situation: in the past few months, I've heard the word used differently than what I understood it to mean. I grew up thinking that a busybody was nearly a synonym for someone who is nosey — or the neighborhood gossiper.

This differs from what I've heard lately from acquaintances, friends and strangers. Their usage seems to be more a literal translation of the words, say, "one who keeps their body busy — or rarely stays idle." (Used in a sentence: When Mr. Smith sold the classic car he restored, I doubted he would give up the hobby because he's always been a busybody.)

(See what the Free Online Dictionary has to say about the word here.)

Discussion: is our generation changing the definition of this word? It's happened with other words so it could happen again. Wikipedia tells me that the evolution of word usage — usually to the point that the modern meaning is radically different from the original usage" is called semantic change. 

Here's a semantic change example from Wikipedia. "Egregious originally described something that was remarkably good. The word is from the Latin egregius (outstanding) which is from e-, ex- (out of) + greg- or grex (flock). Now it means something that is remarkably bad or flagrant."

What do you think "busybody" means? Or what words irk you to hear used incorrectly?

p.s. I do enjoy English, grammar and general semantics but by no means always choose my words correctly...


LiLu said...

I definitely thought it meant someone who's all up in everybody's BIZNAS.

You know... "busy" body.

Kb_Mal said...

I think we're right, LiLu. Merriam-Webster says so, too.

Chiara said...

I agree... I was under the impression it still meant someone who is nosy and gossipy!

Mego said...

i share the popular opinion on this one. Katy you are correct (in my book)!

Dino said...

I've always heard it in the nosey context.

Speaking of word debates, you may way to revise your definition of meme from way back when.

Kb_Mal said...

Dino, glad to hear you heard it the same way!

As for meme, dammit. I heard that definition from someone else and believed it!