Words are funny creatures. If you want to know the definition of one, you look it up in the dictionary. But sometimes the idea they convey can go farther than Mr. Webster or someone else of his ilk had in mind.
You’re probably already familiar with the denotative and connotative meanings of words. Denotative relates to serving “as a linguistic expression of the notion.” Connotative relates to a cultural or emotional association.
In other words, denotative is, and connotative is how it can be taken.
When someone says “Oh, great!” do they mean something is wonderful … or are they implying things aren’t so cheery?
When a woman mentions a “hot babe,” you figure she’s concerned about a sweaty infant. If a guy mentions “hot babe,” however, he’s probably referring to the woman who’s trying to cool that infant.
When Caesar said “Lend me your ears,” he wanted his audience to listen with rapt attention, NOT do a Van Gogh on their lobes and loan them out.
(Although I am put in mind of a Star Trek episode where Kirk and Spock travel back in time and Kirk tries to explain Spock’s ears by claiming he fell into a mechanical rice picker…. Don’t ever think there was never any comedy on that show!)
Connotations are blood to a writer’s words, giving them life when, if we had to stick to the literal meaning, a passage would otherwise be rendered dry as dust. Without connotation, the preceding sentence would have turned out more like this: Connotation uses concrete concepts to adapt an abstract idea to a written passage, making it more creative for the reader.
Huh? * Snort!* Cough! Where was I? Oh yeah, so after they pulled Spock out of the mechanical rice picker, they took him to a missionary who…. You mean that wasn’t where I left off? And I already did the whole blood and dust bit? Oh, great…!