Semantic drift is the evolution that occurs in the meaning of some words when careless, ignorant usage alters or even reverses their senses. Such change is inevitable, but allow me to mourn the loss of a word here and there, never again to be applicable to an idea or image with such crisp clarity. Here are five terms tainted by semantic drift:
The essence of aggravate is right there in the middle: grav-, the root of gravity and grave (as in “serious”; the word for the resting place of a coffin has a different etymological origin). The Latin word gravis means “heavy,” and aggravate originally literally means “to make heavy”; the original sense was “to make worse.”
But almost immediately—and naturally, because a burden is irritating—it acquired the additional sense of “exasperate.” Use of that meaning now predominates. Wordsmith H. W. Fowler proclaimed that “to make worse” is the only correct sense of aggravate; he was undoubtedly irritated (not aggravated) to know that popular usage defied his decree.