Words, too, can reform themselves, giving us no call to dredge up their once-dark lives.
Linguists call the mysterious process whereby a pejorative sheds its negative connotation over time amelioration.
Like guests at a Hollywood party, we're surrounded by words (and phrases) that have—over history—ameliorated:
- 30 years ago, bad meant crummy, sick meant unwell, wicked meant vicious, killer meant murderer, and shut up meant be quiet.
- 70 years ago, collaborating meant aiding the Nazis, and a geek meant a freak in a circus.
- 200 years ago, lumber meant trash.
- 800 years ago, pretty meant cunning, shrewd meant evil, and nice meant stupid.