In a previous post I discussed how two words may have the same meaning, but may not be used in the same context. In order to choose the correct word, it is very important that we understand both the denotation (the precise meaning) and the connotation (the emotional overtones) of the word. Not understanding these, results in the misuse of words. One of the most misused pair of words is strange and weird. Many people take them to mean the same thing and very often use one word for the other. True, their meanings are similar, but their connotations are very different. Let’s look into their meanings and synonyms first.
Meaning: unfamiliar, unusual, something differing from the normal.
Synonyms: peculiar, odd, eccentric, queer, quaint.
Meaning: of or relating to the supernatural, inspiring inexplicable fear or dread.
Synonyms: eerie, unearthly, uncanny, creepy.
Now it’s very easy for someone to look at these meanings and synonyms and say, “But they are the same”. Yes, by the look of them, they are the same. But if you look at their connotations, they are very different.
Let’s take the example of Charles Dickens’ words – “The person of the house gave a weird little laugh”. Here Dickens means there was something creepy, something eerie in the laugh that inspired a feeling of uneasiness. He could have said “….strange little laugh”, but that wouldn’t have evoked the same feeling of eeriness or given the same inexplicable dread or fear as the word weird has.
So, what does this mean? This means that the word strange is a light word which means something uncommon or odd. It has a positive connotation. Whereas weird is a strong word with negative connotations. Weird induces a sense of disbelief or alienation in someone. This is why one must be very careful when choosing between the words strange and weird – Use strange when you mean odd or uncommon; and weird when you mean eerie, or want to evoke a sense of inexplicable fear.
What do you think – was this post strange or weird?