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Examples of semantics: learn to play with words

Creative writing also has its theoretical parts. There are elements, such as semantics or syntax, that are worth studying as we try to improve as writers. Why? Very simple, because mastery of semantics and syntax automatically leads to a better mastery of writing technique. In this article we will review concrete examples of semantics and their applications. 

The first thing we must do is define what semantics is . This discipline studies the meaning of words and sentences.

At the same time, semantics studies the evolution of the meanings of words over the years and geographies, as well as their origin and their application in various literary genres. 

From here we will discover in depth the world of semantics. 

Two types of general semantics: synchronous and diachronic 

These two large groups that encompass semantics are markedly separated. 

  • On the one hand, synchronous semantics focuses on the study of the words that are used in a specific time and place. 
  • On the other hand, diachronic semantics studies the evolution in time of meanings. It is, therefore, a more historical than a geographical approach. 

Apart from these two large groups, we must directly connect semantics with other disciplines, such as semiotics. If semiotics studies signs of all kinds, semantics studies their meanings. Regarding this, it is necessary to clearly differentiate between meaning (what a word means) and significant (how a word is expressed visually). We will also distinguish between: 

  • Connotation : this element is the subjective meaning that one attributes to a term. For example, what does the word “writing” refer you to? 
  • Denotation : denotation sets the objective formal meaning, usually expressed in dictionaries. It is not subjective and will buy you. 

As can be seen, both connotation and denotation mean that words are not watertight compartments. Rather, its meanings are open and full of variants to play with. 

Examples of semantics, useful to improve technique 

There are several techniques encompassed within the realm of semantics that a writer must learn to master. Above all, if one launches into creative writing, it is convenient to internalize these bases and keep them in mind at all times. 

To begin with, in practice we group the words by semantic groups. For example, if we speak of “literary genres, types of narrators, writing guidelines, etc.”, we are within the semantic group “writing”. A semantic study of these groups allows us to discover what are the formal and meaning relationships between the words of the same group (or others). 

Enter the words that make up semantic groups we find multiple relationships of meaning. With these variants we can play and make literature. how? 

Learn to play with words and imagination 

Knowing in depth all the elements of semantics, as well as the relationships between words, is essential for creation. After all, the writer is nothing more than an alchemist of words . In fact, at Central de Escritura we offer several courses where you can learn to master, with practical examples, both the style and the enormous world of words. And, with it, create good literature. 

Meaning relationships between written words 

We list below the main examples of semantics referring to the relationships between meanings: 

  • Polysemy: when a word can mean several things at the same time. For example, the bench to sit on or the bank where we keep money. 
  • Monosemia: words of single meaning and without folds 
  • Synonymy: words that are spelled differently but have the exact same meaning (house, home) 
  • Antonimia: different words that mean opposite things (day, night) 
  • Homonymy: Two words that are written differently but are pronounced the same 
  • Paronymy: words that are very similar but whose differences make them very different in terms of meaning. 

The evolution of semantics and words over time 

Because words are malleable and change as a group of people use them, semantics is a changing art. We are going to see some changes in semantic meaning that words can undergo through their use. We will see how a meaning can, little by little, move into new fields. And with those variations, we will seek to make literature. 

In this sense, words can undergo radical changes: from the time their use disappears (“vuesa merced”), until the same word with a different meaning continues to be used (for example, “participation” is a word that in the Middle Ages it had many more mystical meanings than now). 

At the same time, words can absorb new meanings. The most playful writer can use the neologism technique to create new words from semantic groups. Gombrowicz is an example of a great writer who invented words with understandable meaning. Example: cululailo (ass that dances), malaxation (a kind of pain) and other fun combinations. 

Taboos and euphemisms, the dark side of semantics 

Words also move in much more ethereal registers, if we look at their semantics. We highlight several types of much more delicate uses that the literature writer should know how to incorporate into his writing technique: 

  • Euphemism: when, to say something, we use expressions or words that do not properly say the question itself, but rather suggest it. 
  • Taboos: there are words that, by social contract, are prohibited or their use is greatly reduced. For example: “handicapped”. Now it is used much more “disabled”, less hurtful. 
  • Difference: a variant of the euphemism, rather the opposite, that uses more direct or harsh expressions. 

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What do you think?

Written by Golda Burke

Creative Writer, Tutor, Educator.

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