Robert Stockwell, Donka Minkova, English Words: History and Structure (2001, →ISBN), page 157: {In] semantic bleaching, [...] the original meaning of the word has been eroded away and generalized by heavy usage, as in words like very (originally "true"), awful ("full of awe"), terrible ("able to cause terror"). The ultimate examples of bleaching are the words thing, do, nice, [] Thing originally referred to a sort of parliamentary town-hall meeting, hence affair, act, any kind of business. [] The bleaching of this word is so complete that people have come up with variations such as thingumbob, thingamajig, [etc].




  1. present participle of bleach


bleaching (plural bleachings)

  1. The process of removing stains or of whitening fabrics, especially by the use of chemical agents.
  2. The loss or removal of part of the (semantic, grammatical, etc) content or a word or morpheme.
    Coordinate term: desemanticization
    • 2000, Frederick J. Newmeyer, Language Form and Language Function, MIT Press (→ISBN), page 249:
      Grammaticalization is often associated with 'semantic bleaching', and this 'bleaching' is the result of reanalysis [] But there is no evidence that the bleaching of the meaning of do played any role in the causation of this sequence of events.
    • 2009, Vit Bubenik, John Hewson, Sarah Rose, Grammatical Change in Indo-European Languages: Papers presented at the workshop on Indo-European Linguistics at the XVIIIth International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Montreal, 2007, John Benjamins Publishing (→ISBN), page 165:
      In the development of the prepositional phrase, which did not exist in PIE, one can see a grammaticalization based on a double bleaching. [] Many of these combinations are achieved by lexical bleaching of the grammatical element and grammatical bleaching of the lexical element, as in the prepositional phrases in (11).
      (11) French   English
        en auto   by car

Derived termsEdit