A few months ago, I wrote a post about the differences in clever vs smart. https://wakinguponthewrongsideof50.com/2022/06/30/clever-v-smart/

In the comments of this post, there was a discussion about the definition of the word CLEVER. Someone thought of the word clever as having shady connotations, as shown by the oft used British who dun it phrase:

He thinks he’s so clever

So, my question for today is rather pedantic:

How does tone change the definition of a word?

Clearly, the definition of the word clever has not changed in the above sentence. The word still reflects that someone is intelligent, or smart, or however you define it. But the tone…the tone changes how we look at the word.

What are other words that make us think differently about them depending on how one uses them?

Is this what gets us into trouble with texts?

Were emoji’s invented to help us determine how something is being intended to be used?

How does tone and intent change the way we think about words?

61 thoughts on “Same Meaning

  1. If you want to get technical, the Brits use the word smart in a different context as well. One can dress smart… We don’t say that in North America mostly, I don’t think.

    I like the word clever. Yes, it might have different meanings depending on context and tone of voice, but in broad terms, you can be smart without being clever. But can you be clever without being smart?

    Smart = intelligent, able to retain a lot of information to apply to circumstances. Regurgitation of data retained for practical purposes.

    Clever = ability to come up with ideas outside the norm, something uniquely different from what the masses may have come up with. One of a kind, outside the box.

    My two cents. 🙃

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Tone, facial expressions, hand or body gestures- all those things can insinuate meaning to words. Clearly culture has a place as well in how words are perceived. Was that the intent with emojis or are emojis just meant to be a shortcut rather than write actual words? The face emojis certainly help to clarify the tone of the text though…in most cases.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. that’s what I thought the original intent was, but all of the other ones (the symbols and such) have no real intent do they, other than to clutter up a text? I think of those as modern day hieroglyphics for those who prefer not to use words

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad I don’t speak Chinese, but where tone really matters. I love listening to Norwegian friends — highs and lows all in the same phrase. I’d never be able to speak it, because I wouldn’t know whether to begin up in the sky or down in the depths.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You are right. I dealt with someone from another part of the country, and I thought he was critical of me. Turned out he just had a gruff way of speaking. I didn’t like it, but I had to accept it.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! Mum written, Clever was always cool when I was in school. When did it become out of fashion to not have a clever brain?
      I was in high school and college in the late 1960’s. I was in advanced classes so clever was always cool, respected, and extremely highly regarded growing up.
      But in 1966 girls had to constantly fight to be equals. So if you wanted to go to college you did not hide being intelligent or clever. Besides being in all advanced classes I was also in an all girls rock band and a teen model for a local dept. store. So I never fit into one particular category. Women in the 1960’s still had to prove we were just as smart ( or smarter) and as capable as the boys. Therefore, being clever, really articulate, well written and well read was imperative to successfully change old school concepts about what women could accomplish. ALL the girls wanted to be clever.
      When the heck did clever become negative? When you have to constantly prove you are on par with males, you better be more clever and smarter than every guy in the room. That’s why RBG and HRC were always the smartest people in the room. It took clever women to change laws. Today more than ever We need a surge of smart, clever women. We are having my 55th high school reunion soon.. It will be filled with a room full of brilliant, clever women and some equally bright men. I’m still stunned that clever was ever a negative.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is so interesting. I would say school in the 1980s Britain was generally about not showing that you were trying hard. Particularly girls having to pretend to be dumb to be liked by boys. Ugh. How easy it is for generations who come after to forget the work that went before.


  3. Tone can often be misinterpreted in emails and texts. By the time I retired from teaching our principal would often email important messages to the staff regarding teacher meetings or specific students.
    Keep in mind that teaching isn’t a job like working in an office. There’s no down time. The students are always with you. I was an old school teacher in that I never sat at my desk. ( younger teachers sit down and use their laptops all the time. I have veins on my legs and ankles because I never sat down. And I always wore heels during teaching hours. I walked around while the kids worked and learned. I was either teaching them skills, working with students in groups etc. and so when I heard a ding I’d have to rush over to my desk , glance at the administrator’s email, quickly respond and get back to educating the children. I found it distracting.

    One time I must have offended my boss. Two dings in a row and I had to dash back to my desk. Her response to my answer to her first email was , “see me during your lunch break.” I checked my response and thought nothing of it. But…When I saw her during my 20 min. Lunch break she told me she didn’t like my tone in the email. I asked her in what way. Since I’m usually friendly and chatty I understood that my response was different from usual.. So I explained how I was in the middle of preparing the kids for the upcoming state writing test , which was timed, and I was giving the children a practice quiz combining a planning lesson which they needed to master so they could do well on that test. (The state required that a prompt had to be planned, written, edited in the state allowed timed of 45 min.). So I was engrossed in the lesson, then a timed quiz and had rushed my response to return to the students. And that I simply answered her question but I left out my usual wordy, detailed answers.i explained I wasn’t trying to be abrupt or rude. I apologized for my tone coming across as abrupt. She understood and that was that. But I too understood why she took offense to my tone. She perceived it as Curt.. which I suppose it was.
    That happens sometimes. Tone depends on how busy someone is.

    I think emoji’s were started by young people. Remember in middle school how our exclamation points were turned into hearts? I know all my friends and I would pass notes in class and make our own hearts or drawings. My bff and I had code names for boys we liked. We had TDH 1 and TDH2 ( tall dark and handsome. And if he had one heart we had a crush on him. But two hearts and we were majorly in like. All the girls created our own drawings in the 1960’s which were a lot like today’s emoji’s. Letters and notes were short and hand written. A pre curser to texting with emojis. We had our own codes. It’s always been done by teens. Now it’s just electronic.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. To add to my above response. Many words have multiple meanings depending on where you are from. Everyone British says that’s Brilliant when I don’t think it’s brilliant. That in my mind just means it’s a good idea, brilliant to me means an IQ in the highly gifted range. ( top 99%).
    The French use magnifique or superbe. Which I think is a more descriptive way to express something fabulous.
    When I taught writing to students I had a very multicultural group in Florida. Fabulosa ( or fabuloso for males) would have been said in the Hispanic community. And I used a conglomeration of all the ethnic words used when I taught descriptive language. Americans need to expand their dialogue and their vocabulary skills. We often come off as ignorant compared to European countries where they speak so many languages. We really need to step up our game.

    BTW, Clever is original, intelligent, quick witted. I have never ever thought of it in a negative light.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mum what you describe is how it was in America in the 1950’s. That’s how I grew up. Crazy that you all were so far behind. My mother told me not to beat the boys at sports and to stop showing them I was smarter than they were or they wouldn’t like me. By the time I reached high school I said no way! And I rebelled against all that. My mother actually told me I was lucky I was pretty because I would easily get a husband. So I grew up thinking I only had my looks to depend on. But then I wanted to be recognized for who I was, not just my looks. Yes, I wore makeup like Twiggy in the 1960’s and modeled because I had the “London look” which was big in fashion when I was in high school, but I also capitalized on my brains too. I enjoyed being in advanced classes. We got to read classical literature which I adored. Both my sons were tested in school early on and put in gifted classes because they were (are) super bright. But my oldest is now 49 and was a teenager in the late 80’s. Girls were pretty much on par with boys back then. He liked smart girls. He never went out with anyone who wasn’t intelligent. His children are super bright as well. So the 80’s in America were much more progressive here than where you grew up.. My youngest wasn’t born until 1988 and so he’s never really known a world where every person wasn’t equal. Until he moved to Atlanta to work as a director in the film industry. Atlanta is progressive but parts of Georgia are quite racist. That shocked him. He was not prepared for the bigotry in the South. That surprised him. My children grew up with a mom who is a feminist and both parents are liberal Democrats. So there was no bigotry against any group of people. I do have to say that I apologize to you for our last president and the parts of America that have shown their bigotry and racism since 2016. Because before that my country was on a path for more equality for all human beings. Thanks for the insight about your country and your upbringing. Very interesting indeed! .


  6. We (hubby and I) have a line we use jokingly: “It’s fine!!” said almost with a snarl, and reply “Fine!!” We know that this is a word that people rarely mean when they say it. Almost always ironic, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It is not only English but every language is a tool in the hands of the writer. The tone, the manner, the expression, the mood, the inner meaning, the under current of every word, phrase, sentence change the way we use a particular word or construct a sentence. Even placement of a word in a sentence makes a whole lot of difference and variation in meaning and impact. I learnt this trick while doing official noting and drafting. This is known as playing with words.

    Emojis were not invented to reinforce meaning of a word but to attribute a visual asset to how we felt. Today the stress is on visuals – Learning, Teaching, Reading, Performing. To give just one example, earlier the singers used to just stand with the mike in hand and give rendition to a song. Now they are no more singers but performers. So, while singing they have to jump around like a jack ass (read dance) or swing their body and do a whole lot of gymnastics on stage to entertain and create a visual impact to impress the audience. For the part of the audience, earlier they would sit quietly and listen attentively to the rendition and appreciate the beauty of the composition. Now they too hoot and whistle and jog and jostle to show how much they have been “affected” by the performance.

    I think I digressed. But what I intend to say is emojis cannot be part of a lingual format. They are just mobile language at best. Words again are the implements of the wordsmith. How they play and probe with them.

    Hope I have been able to convey what I intended to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like what you said about being visual. You’re right…we’ve become a see it to believe it society. That’s something to overthink today…


    2. GC, I beg to differ with your theatrical references. Visuals and movement have been used for thousands of years in the creative arts to showcase the written word.. The ancient Greeks wore giant masks to portray characters and pranced about the stage. Comedia dell’arte was popular for centuries where extreme movement, wacky masks, even animals, jugglers, musicians were used on stage to entertain . Moliiere’s plays influenced language around the world and were physical theatrical and visual masterpieces. Theatre has always included singing, dancing, gymnastics etc. Elvis wasn’t the first to shake up an audience. That’s been going on since the beginning of time.
      Ancient passion plays brought the Bible to life. People have always used props, music, song and dance to entertain and enhance the written word. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre had trap doors to lower and raise actors and performers for visual affect. It’s not just something that happened in modern times. It’s theatrical history. Art is art. It transforms language. If anything, today’s performances pale in comparison. The only thing we have that they didn’t is electricity to enhance visual affects.
      DaVinci created apparatuses for religious performances for the church. Today we use electric guitars and emojis. People have always used their senses to appreciate the arts.

      Think about it. Back in ancient times the masses couldn’t read so performance art was the only way to show an audience a story. If people couldn’t read they still had the need to hear, see, enjoy language. Human beings like to use their five senses. I don’t think humanity has changed that much. We have technology now. So music changed to electric guitars, microphones, colorful special affects etc. But special affects were always used and performers never stood still on stage. They only stood still when tv was invented because early cameras couldn’t follow them around in the early years of television.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You saw Elvis right? They did try to stop him from moving on stage. Now he did, but there is a difference in attending concerts with performers now as opposed to before. When I went to concerts growing up, the6 weren’t spectacles. Now, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift…there are performers who are more into the show than the music.


      2. I suppose it depends on the band, psychedelic bands (Pink Floyd), glam rock (Kiss, Alice Cooper, Bowie) Punk (GG alin, Gwar) to name a few from the last 50 years that were all about putting on a show as opposed to just singing.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s all about tone and intent. Words are shaded and shaped to create fear, passion, anxiety, fortitude, and on and on. The same millions of words used in different context are the foundation of every book article and magazine ever written.It is truly a wonderful thing. Reading this over, not sure it makes sense so I hope you know what I mean.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Tone does change how we perceive a word, like “you’re so smart” can be said as a compliment or as a sarcastic insult meaning “you’re so stupid”, depending on the tone. Also, context changes the meaning of words.

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