Special Report

36 Old Words We Use Today But With New Meanings

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A natural once meant a person born with impaired intelligence. Now it has many meanings, including the opposite — a person born with a special ability, as in, “She’s a natural musician.” It can also mean ordinary, as in, “He died of natural causes.”

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Nice once meant fastidious or precise, as in “a nice distinction.” Those meanings haven’t entirely died out, but now nice is most often used to mean polite, kind, agreeable, or appropriate.

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To profess once meant to teach, as a professor does. Now it means to declare or admit openly, such as when someone professes their love. The word is often used in the context of religious belief.

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A receipt was once a recipe, and in this sense it had French roots (as do many cooking terms). Now it can mean the act of receiving or an acknowledgement of something purchased. The word is derived from the Latin word recepta.

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To relieve once meant to make (something) stand out and derived from the Latin relevare, to raise. Now it means to free from a burden, to replace or take the place of. The former sense is still evident when we talk about relief sculpture.

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