There are words that have changed meaning over the generations. Think how cool went from “of or at fairly low temperature” to an expression of admiration and approval, sometime in the 1950s, and to this day. Think of how bad became someone who is super cool in the 1980s.
Words are the writers’ basic tools. So we have to know them and their ever-evolving meaning. Some are obvious when they morph, such as the above. A teen’s comment to another that “you’re so bad” is a statement of praise. Got it. But then there are the super subtle nuanced meanings that require a good ear.
One of these that have perplexed me is the evolution of the word interesting.
When I was growing up, and in the circles I inhabited, this was as high a praise you can bestow on a person or a thing. Aside from the obvious virtues of a principled character, intelligence and a good heart, being interesting is as good as it gets. But when DD became a tween, I discovered it has another meaning.
“Interesting,” she’d say, when she meant, “I don’t care for it but I won’t say that outright.” It is said in a different tone, one that suggests ambivalence. It got so I would follow these statements with a question, “do you mean it’s riveting or that it’s odd in a way you don’t really care for?”
Eventually I just asked,” do you mean ‘interesting!’ or ‘interesting... L’?”
I thought it was a generational thing, or possibly a cultural difference, as I grew up in another country. But recently I got some feedback on a manuscript that began with “Interesting.” After the period came a qualifying sentence that suggested the critic didn’t want to make an outright negative statement, but they were not favorably inclined.
So this other meaning of interesting has crossed over to my generation.
I find the subtleties of language, well, interesting.