Words from the past that now mean something completely different 1



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A woman who hadn’t flown for a while pointed excitedly at a Golden Labrador scaling and sniffing suitcases on a carousel at the airport.

“Oh, how cute,” she exclaimed. ‘The guide dog is looking for its master’s bag.”

Her fellow travellers smiled or shook their heads as her companion told her it was actually a drug detection dog looking for contraband goods.

Who could have known?

Words and images can have different meanings over time and keeping up with the changes can be confusing, humorous or even embarrassing.

Gay used to be either a girl’s name or a happy mood. Used that way in the wrong sentence and it can cause raised eyebrows among those who interpret it to mean homosexual.

The first time seeing GAY IS GOOD graffiti on a wall had us wondering who Gay was, and if she minded her name being broadcast like that? Girls’ names scrawled across walls used to have their own connotations.

Camp used to be an accepted word for homosexuals, but using ‘camp as a row of tents’ now might miss its intention completely.

Other words have become completely the opposite of what they used to mean.

If someone or thing was ‘sick’ or ‘deadly’ we’d be inclined to offer sympathy, no longer appropriate when it now means ‘very good’.

A ‘tool’ used to be something useful, but now it can mean someone who hasn’t got a clue. Distinguishing the difference in intention can be a minefield if we’re looking for an implement.

Buzz used to be something annoying. Now it describes excited interest or attention for something that’s become fashionable.

LOL was one that tripped a lot of people up because it used to mean Lots of Love, scrawled on the back of an envelope in the same way SWALK might be (Sealed with a loving kiss). These days online or in text it’s now used for Laugh out loud, a totally different emotional exchange.

Someone having their head in the clouds was meant as overly optimistic, but now putting things on the cloud might have had a few of us looking up until we realised it’s a new storage platform for digital media.

Brand names can also cause confusion or embarrassment across culturally diverse audiences.

Two young Aussie girls working in a bar in Scotland had the men at the bar in fits of laughter as they yelled across the room as one tried to find the ‘Durex’. In Victoria it was the most common brand of sticky tape, in Scotland it was a common brand of condoms.

“Have you seen the Durex?”

“No I haven’t got any. Ask Wilma, she had some this morning.”

“Wilma, (who was Scottish, and the bar manager) have you got any Durex? I need it right now.”

A red faced Wilma appeared muttering in hushed tones, “Will you two behave yourselves.”

What changes in meaning have caught you out over the years?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. been down that road when I made the comment about some bloke being gay and happy, you should seen the strange looks I got from a couple of teenagers

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