I can only imagine this has been asked before, but the closest I found in a search had to do with translation and slang. Sorry if it's been answered!

My question is about the watering-down of English words, in particular, as I'm not familiar with others. For example, "awesome" coming to mean "pretty cool" instead of "worthy of awe," and "tribe" coming to mean "a group of people with similar ideas who want to feel connected" instead of "a group of people who share a culture." I was once told that the term for this was "language meiosis," but that turns out to be a different thing. "Trivialization" and "diminishment" turn up nothing. Is there a word for this process?

  • In what respect does "meiosis" not caputure what you're after? I'd think the term matches your description quite well. Nov 8, 2017 at 12:53

2 Answers 2


For the particular direction of semantic shift, I am aware of the term semantic bleaching. Semantic bleaching is part of the process of Grammaticalization.

  • I don't think any of the words the OP is asking about are being grammaticalised though...
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 8, 2017 at 22:39
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    @curiousdannii But semantic bleaching also applies outside of grammaticalisation.The examples given in books.google.com.au/… include "awful" and "terrible". Jul 8, 2018 at 13:12

I think, Semantic Change is the term you're looking for.

The Wikipedia article has a nice summary:

[…] semantic change is a change in one of the meanings of a word. Every word has a variety of senses and connotations, which can be added, removed, or altered over time, often to the extent that cognates across space and time have very different meanings.

The Wikipedia article also contains a broad list of sub-types of the Semantic shifts, including Degeneration and Meiosis.

  • I like semantic drift better, because the net change is unintended -- as users stretch a word in different directions.
    – amI
    Nov 7, 2017 at 20:43
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    Semantic change is a very general term that covers all kinds of semantic change (e.g. semantic narrowing/widening, pejoration etc.); I understand the question to be about a more specific phenomenon in the sense of a change towards a weaker connotation. Nov 8, 2017 at 12:51

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