How Words Change Meaning

How words change meaning:
Semantic shifts and changes
Alter our senses
With their directions — mended
Bearing new realities.

About this poem

As a poet, I am ever sensitive to the function and use of words, their derivations, their phonetic compilations, their phonological contrastive relationships, and their multilingual ranges and features. As a Freshman undergraduate student at Howard University in Washington, D.C., during the 1960s, and expressing the joys of youthfulness, with its promises of hope, fulfillment, and success, I composed a poem about the joy and gaiety of life (the title I don’t recall), experienced especially during one’s very young years when one is usually full of vim and vitality. This poem was later published in the school’s “Hilltop” newsletter. The year was 1960, at a time when the word “gay” (employed in my poem) meant (at least to me) simply “full of joy or mirth,” a meaning that most likely originated in the 12th century from the Old French word “gai” as well as from the Old High German “gahi” and suggesting such expressions as impulsiveness, being happy and carefree, spritely and bright, without having any meaning that referred to one’s sexuality. For me, the word preserved that meaning, and still retains that meaning today in a very personal way, although for some people, it may bear broader connotations. It appears that by the second half of the twentieth century, the Anglo-Germanic word “gay” began to increasingly shift its meaning, and to eventually arrive at its current modern day usage as a socially acceptable term for homosexual people. This is one tiny, yet significant example of semantic shift, and how, after a length of time, along with social and cultural changes on a global basis, words do alter their meaning, and along with such alterations, our social and cultural senses, in tandem, become altered. This one-stanza Japanese-style Tanka poem, “How Words Change Meaning,” serves as a syllogistic five-line statement that encapsulates the nature and processes of semantic shifts. 

Font size:
Collection  PDF     

Written on May 06, 2022

Submitted by karlcfolkes on May 06, 2022

Modified on March 05, 2023

6 sec read

Quick analysis:

Scheme ABBCD
Closest metre Iambic trimeter
Characters 128
Words 22
Stanzas 1
Stanza Lengths 5

Karl Constantine FOLKES

Retired educator of Jamaican ancestry with a lifelong interest in composing poetry dealing particularly with the metaphysics of self-reflection; completed a dissertation in Children’s Literature in 1991 at New York University entitled: An Analysis of Wilhelm Grimm’s ‘Liebe Mili’ (translated into English as “Dear Mili”), Employing Von Franzian Methodological Processes of Analytical Psychology. The subject of the dissertation concerned the process of Individuation. more…

All Karl Constantine FOLKES poems | Karl Constantine FOLKES Books

70 fans

Discuss the poem How Words Change Meaning with the community...

1 Comment
  • teril
    Words carry so much power, both at the individual level and for the society. Interesting to notice what happens when the two are not in sync.
    LikeReply1 year ago


Find a translation for this poem in other languages:

Select another language:

  • - Select -
  • 简体中文 (Chinese - Simplified)
  • 繁體中文 (Chinese - Traditional)
  • Español (Spanish)
  • Esperanto (Esperanto)
  • 日本語 (Japanese)
  • Português (Portuguese)
  • Deutsch (German)
  • العربية (Arabic)
  • Français (French)
  • Русский (Russian)
  • ಕನ್ನಡ (Kannada)
  • 한국어 (Korean)
  • עברית (Hebrew)
  • Gaeilge (Irish)
  • Українська (Ukrainian)
  • اردو (Urdu)
  • Magyar (Hungarian)
  • मानक हिन्दी (Hindi)
  • Indonesia (Indonesian)
  • Italiano (Italian)
  • தமிழ் (Tamil)
  • Türkçe (Turkish)
  • తెలుగు (Telugu)
  • ภาษาไทย (Thai)
  • Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)
  • Čeština (Czech)
  • Polski (Polish)
  • Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian)
  • Românește (Romanian)
  • Nederlands (Dutch)
  • Ελληνικά (Greek)
  • Latinum (Latin)
  • Svenska (Swedish)
  • Dansk (Danish)
  • Suomi (Finnish)
  • فارسی (Persian)
  • ייִדיש (Yiddish)
  • հայերեն (Armenian)
  • Norsk (Norwegian)
  • English (English)


Use the citation below to add this poem to your bibliography:


"How Words Change Meaning" STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 17 Jul 2024. <>.

Become a member!

Join our community of poets and poetry lovers to share your work and offer feedback and encouragement to writers all over the world!

July 2024

Poetry Contest

Join our monthly contest for an opportunity to win cash prizes and attain global acclaim for your talent.

Special Program

Earn Rewards!

Unlock exciting rewards such as a free mug and free contest pass by commenting on fellow members' poems today!



Are you a poetry master?

Which poetic form consists of fourteen lines, typically written in iambic pentameter and follows a specific rhyme scheme?
A Ballad
B Sonnet
C Free verse
D Haiku