What is the meaning of the word “appreciation”, as understood from the entry in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary?
KEYWORDS: action, appreciation, gratitude, perception, philosophy of language, psychology, Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, value, word meanings.
This blog post is about the idea of “appreciation”. This word is important for anyone who wants to be happy in this world.
The trouble is just that different people use this word in various ways. And that is something that I want to come back to in another post.
However, for this blog post, I am going to going to investigate what the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has to say about its many meanings.
The Five Meanings in the SOED
In order to get some clarity about the “established” meanings of the word “appreciation”, let us first have a look at what the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary says (Little 1973, p. 93):
“1. The action of setting a money value upon; appraisement (rare) 1799. 2. The action of estimating; deliberate judgement 1604. 3. Perception, esp. of delicate impressions or distinctions. late ME. 4. Adequate or high estimation 1650. 5. Rise in exchangeable value. See appreciate 4. 1789.”
My first observation is that the third meaning is the oldest one [note 1]. For the phrase ‘late ME’ stands for ‘late Middle English’.
And according to the Oxford Companion to the English Language, the period of Middle English ended around 1450, having started at around 1150 (McArthur and McArthur 1992, p. 657). Thus, my approximation of ‘late ME’ would be the period of 1350-1450 or so.
Thus the first mentioning in English of the word “appreciation” (in written form) seems to be from around 1350-1450.
Appreciation as Perception
So, according to the SOED, the original meaning in the English language of the word “appreciation” is: “Perception, esp. of delicate impressions or distinctions.” But the question now is this: What does this mean, actually? What role does the word “perception” play here?
As I understand it, “perception” here indicates the presence of our senses. In the case of “impressions” we are probably talking about the evaluation of (extraordinary) visual or auditory impressions with our eyes and ears.
And in the case of “distinctions” we are probably talking about the evaluation of (extraordinary) achievements, using our cognitive abilities.
However, it is interesting to ask a couple of questions here (which I am not going to touch upon in this article, but save for later): Is this type of “appreciation” one that is including also emotion? Can, or should, one’s emotions (or feelings) be a part of such an “appreciation”, according to the editors at Oxford? Or is this type of “appreciation” only some type of cognitive evaluation?
Appreciation as Action (1)
The second item (“The action of estimating; deliberate judgement”) is the next oldest one, being from 1604. Here, then, it is about the action of estimating, in general.
The interesting idea here is that when estimating something, especially something which is not so good or not so extraordinary, one may conclude that it is not very appreciated. In that case, an appreciation (as an action) can involve a non-appreciation (as a perception) of that which is evaluated.
Expressed in a different way: in “appreciation as perception” one can only appreciate. It seems impossible to experience a perception of appreciation that amounts to a negative evaluation. But in both the varieties of “appreciation as action” the evaluation might turn out negative (compared to some reference value).
Appreciation as Action (2)
The first item listed in the SOED (“The action of setting a money value upon; appraisement”) is from 1799. This item seems to be a specialization of the more general meaning found in item two (“The action of estimating; deliberate judgement”), producing a new meaning: the estimating is here only about monetary value.
Appreciation as a Level of Value
The fourth item (“Adequate or high estimation”) is from 1650. We may call this a “level” or a “quantity” type of estimation. Another way to look at it would be to call it a “result”, since it is the outcome of the event of estimating or deliberating.
This type of appreciation seems to be a “continuation” of “appreciation as perception”. For in “appreciation as perception” one experiences internally a sense of appreciation, while in “appreciation as a level of value” one expresses it outwardly in some way.
So to express it outwardly, one might then, for example, use a simple exclamation (“Wonderful!”; “Wunderbar!”), or, perhaps, use a more elaborate statement (“This exquisite painting is undoubtedly one of Renoir’s finest accomplishments!”).
Appreciation as an Increase in Value
The fifth item (“Rise in exchangeable value”) is from 1789. Here we are then talking about a positive difference in value, as compared to a previous level of value. This could also be thought of as a “result”, for such a positive difference in value still has to be estimated, or calculated.
So as we have seen, the word “appreciation” can be understood in four basic ways: as perception, as an action, as a level of value, or as an increase in value.
Alternatively, by using the category of “results” instead of “level of value” and “increase in value”, the word “appreciation” can be thought of in three basic ways: as perception, as an action, or as a result.
Coming up, in later posts, I will try to answer questions such as: How shall I, as a student of the art of using the Law of Attraction effectively, understand the word “appreciation” in my daily exercises and practice? Is that word merely about cognitive evaluation and deliberate judgment, or is it about emotions (and feelings) as well?
- The order of these five meanings is a mystery to me. For in the Introduction the editors say that (Little 1973, p. xiii): “The meanings are arranged with as strict regard as possible for their appearance in order of time.” So why is the oldest meaning in the middle (item 3; 1350-1450) and the two newest meanings at the very beginning (item 1; 1799) and at the very end (item 5; 1789)?
- Little, William, et al. (1973), The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles. Third Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press. [Link to book]
- McArthur, Tom and Feri McArthur, eds. (1992), The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. [Link to book]
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