Special Report

36 Old Words We Use Today But With Completely New Meanings

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Cat

Cat was once commonly used as a slang term for a male. It was associated with jazz music and was also used by Jack Kerouac. While cat is no longer used on its own, terms like “fat cat” and even “cool cat” are still common enough.

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Clout

Clout once meant cloth or clothing and had Old English roots. It also came to be used as a verb meaning to hit in the 14th century, and ultimately came to mean influence — particularly of the political kind — in the 20th century.

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Commend

Commend derives from the Latin word commendare, meaning to entrust someone with something. Now it means to praise or compliment.

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Corrupt

Corrupt derives from the Latin word corumpere, meaning to destroy or spoil. It was thus used as an adjective meaning rotten or putrid. Now the word is used to point to somewhat more abstract objects. Files are corrupted. It is used to mean depraved or debased, often in the context of the abuse of public power or office — political corruption.

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Degree

Degree derives from the Latin word for step (degradus), and was largely used in reference to a position in a social hierarchy or to describe stages in a society’s progress. Now the word means a subdivision or measurement, as in “360 degrees in a circle” or “100 degrees in the shade.” It has lost its meaning related to social or official rank, perhaps as our society has become less formal and class-conscious.