Dear John…

…, why are you so expensive?


Terrible, I know, but sometimes bad jokes can be quite illuminating. Like when they help us to realise that we use the word dear in quite different ways.

We can use it to refer to something we feel very affectionate towards, which now mostly exists as a polite greeting in emails. Or, we can use it say something is expensive. But, are these two uses really so different?

When you think about it, both share the concept of value: someone is of great value to you, and something that’s expensive has a high monetary value. It seems that these two meanings have co-existed from the days of the Old English deore, from which the modern word is derived.

Nowadays, dear is mainly a synonym for expensive, and is therefore a fairly negative word. I suppose we just couldn’t really maintain having a single word with two such contrasting meanings, even if they share the same basic concept at heart, and one meaning had to be lost.

Although the positive sense still lives on to a degree, but only in emails, or greeting cards, or weddings, and who really takes any of those very seriously?

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