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9.1.4: Connotative Language Confidence Gap

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    Connotative Language

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    Denotation and Connotation

    • Denotation is the literal meaning of a word. 

    • Connotation is created when you say a word and mean something else or something more, something that initially might be hidden or not obvious. 

      • –Based on implication, or shared emotional association with a word. 

    Denotative Meanings

    The denotative meaning of a word is similar to the meaning one will find in a dictionary; it is the literal definition of the word.

    Example: The denotative meaning of puppy might be ‘ An immature member of the canine species, usually under one year old,” or “ a very young dog”.

    Connotative Meanings

    According to, “Connotation refers to a meaning that is implied by a word apart from the thing which it describes explicitly

    Connotative words carry cultural and emotional associations or meanings in addition to their literal meanings, or denotations.

    Connotations typically are positive or negative:

    • change vs. transform
    • relaxed or easy-going vs. laid back
    • pleasantly plump or chubby vs. obese
    • slim or svelte vs. skinny

    What connotations does the word ‘puppy’ have for you?

    • In other words, what does the word ‘puppy’ imply to you? 

    • What cultural or emotional associations do you have with the word ‘puppy’? 

      • That is, in your culture, what were you brought up to believe about puppies? 

      • Do you have any memories involving puppies that create emotional response? 

    Keeping in mind the connotations the word ‘puppy’ has for you, interpret these sentences:

    • “My blind date last night was a puppy.”
    • “My blind date followed me around like a puppy.”

    The connotations of “puppy” depend on your culture, experiences, values, and beliefs

    • Are puppies cute, loving, and cuddly?

    • Or are they stinky and destructive

    • Are they a symbol of a fun-filled childhood or a loyal friend?

    • Does the word remind you of an injury you once received from a dog?

    • Are dogs considered offensive or dangerous in your culture?

    • Most animals have different connotations to different people

    Descriptive verbs can be highly connotative.

    • neglected to bring my jump drive to class today.
    • forgot to bring my jump drive to class today.
    • I really slipped up when I left my jump drive in my computer at home.

    • “Their confidence takes a beating.”

      • (This is personification. Confidence cannot literally be beaten!)

    Connotations of “rat race” 

    • Now consider the connotations of the phrase “rat race”

    • “The rat race just isn’t for me.”

    • Do you imagine two children having a great time seeing which of their pet rats runs more quickly?

    • Or do you visualize a rat frantically running on a wheel inside a wire cage?

    • Typically the phrase “rat race” is a metaphorfor a life filled with pointless competition at work that will never result in achieving a real goal, just as a rat running on a wheel never really gets anywhere in spite of its frenetic efforts. 

    Metaphors describe one thing as the same as something completely different from it. (One thing IS another.)
    Similes describe two dissimilar entities or ideas as similar by using the words “like” or “as.”

    • Man, he is a real snake.
    • The girls do not generally run through the halls like wild animals.
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    More Figures of Speech

    Metaphor – a comparison that indicates two dissimilar things are the same.

    Personification – attributing human characteristics to a nonhuman entity.

    • But these explanations for a continued failure to break the glass ceiling are missing something more basic: women’s acute lack of confidence.

      (Women can see the opportunity or get close to it, but can’t rise to that level of opportunity. The obstacle isn’t literally a glass ceiling, but the concrete description makes the obstacle more clear.)

    • “It was only a matter of time before one of his ideas would strike the right note.”

      (An idea can’t literally strike a note, but a person can!)


    “The Confidence Gap”

    Katty Kay


    BBC World News

    Claire Shipman




    ABC News

    Connotation example from The Atlantic “The Confidence Gap”

    • Half a century since women first forced open the boardroom doors, our career trajectories still look very different than men’s (Kay and Shipman para. 4).
    • Why did Kay and Shipman use the verb forced
      • What effect were they after?

    • How does changing the verb phrase in  this sentence create a different connotation?

      »Half a century since women were allowed to enter boardroom doors, our career trajectories still look very different from men’s.

    EXERCISE: Connotative Language in “The Confidence Gap”

    1. Scan “The Confidence Gap” for connotative words or phrases, including figures of speech (such as metaphors, similes, personification) and list them below. 

    2. Each person should take responsibility for a page range, but you should consult each other.

    3. Make a note whether the connotation is positive (+) or minus (-) or a figure of speech. 

    4. Be sure you can explain the connotation behind the word or figure of speech when you report out. 

    Pages 1-3

    Pages 4-7

    Pages 8-10

    Pages 11-13

    forced open + p. 1



    Wrap Up

    • De-brief examples from the text.

    • What did you learn from this exercise?

    • For Monday:

      • Bring “The Confidence Gap” and your mindset articles. Think about how the information in the article might matter in psychology, communications, business, and health.

      • Re-read the page 6-7 of “The Confidence Gap” on external and internal attribution. How can being aware of mindset and internal vs. external attributions lead to more success in your personal life and career?  


    9.1.4: Connotative Language Confidence Gap is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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