Embezzlement, Peculation, and Connotation

By Maeve Maddox

In a previous DWT post, Michael argues that there’s no such thing as a true synonym because a word’s connotation always colors its denotation.

Commenting on the article, a reader refuted Michael’s argument with the words peculation and embezzlement:

I have found one [an exception], and i dont know why it exists. Peculation; definition is “embezzlement” in other words peculation means embezzle embezzlement etc..so thus embezzlement and peculation are of identical meanings. Which makes no sense to me.

Technically, the words do mean the same thing: “taking money that belongs to someone else.” However, there is a useful distinction that many writers observe.

Embezzlement is used for the sneaky crime of a private citizen, while peculation applies to the act of misappropriation of money and contracts by persons in high places. Embezzlement is a crime against an employer; peculation is a betrayal of the public trust.

Ex-Macon teller pleads guilty in embezzlement

2 ex-Fort Peck employees guilty of embezzlement

every one of [the government] ministers has helped in tile work and is guilty of peculation on a gigantic scale…

The second governorship of Clive was marked by … the enforcement of stringent regulations against the besetting sin of peculation.

Although the connotations of many words are the same for large numbers of readers, personal associations can color the way a listener or reader reacts to a given word. For example, for most people the word mother probably carries positive connotations of warmth and nurturing. For the child of an abusive or mentally-ill woman, however, the feelings stirred by the word mother might be negative. Apart from such personal associations, words acquire connotations for us as we encounter them in our reading.

Vocabulary acquired from wide reading brings connotation along with denotation.

denotation: The meaning or signification of a term.

connotation: That which is implied in a word in addition to its essential or primary meaning.

A failing of present day education is the practice of teaching vocabulary chiefly by means of word lists or “vocabulary books.” Vocabulary lists should be used for review; children can best acquire a lasting vocabulary by reading books like Treasure Island and A Tale of Two Cities. A sense of the connotation of words is developed by reading the words in a variety of contexts.

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3 Responses to “Embezzlement, Peculation, and Connotation”

  • Roberta B.

    Peculation – that’s a new word to me that sounds very useful! Yesterday in an email I referred to a housing program as “legalized embezzlement” where public employees (including teachers, firefighters, police, etc.) are given preferential mortgage loans to live in the City where they work. This type of thing must be fairly recent because I didn’t even know programs like that existed. If some of these jobs are considered low-income, then there already are programs for that type of assistance. So, there is no need for this extra layering of insider bureaucracy which sets up convenient circumstances for peculation and adds to taint the credibility of public employees who don’t or won’t take advantage this questionable perq.

  • JC

    “Embezzlement” (don’t you just love the double zeds!) refers to a crime by and individual perpetrated upon an individual. Exemplum: My SOB broker embezzled my account, taking false losses and depositing the proceeds in Bermuda”
    “Peculation” on the other hand refers to the abuse of fiduciary authority by an individual over poled funds. “The Mess SGT was found to be a right bounder aftter the news of his peculation or the Cheese Fund had been found out”.
    These are phrases oif art (as our bewigged bretherfen and sisteren now tell us) and not to be used by the non-annointed.
    Sorry, forgot to hit the “irony” key on that last…..

  • JC

    Please delete unintended “d” between the words “by” and “individual”, and please add another letter “o” in the otherwise murky “poled”. It should also be “of the cheese fund ” instead of “or”
    Shit! Get just ONE finger cut off, and see what it does for YOUR typing!

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