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(Modern alternate definition): to produce a positive feeling, emotional response, or opinion

Urban dictionary: a long-winded and fancy way to over dramatize, “I agree.”

This first usage is fairly recent (the second just tongue-in-cheek). The first is also a hijack example creating an interesting and evocative new meaning from a word whose older definition is metaphorical to the new one. My older dictionaries (OED, big 60s Random House, Webster’s Collegiate 11th) don’t define “resonate” with any definitions appropriate to this usage, but the current online dictionaries do.

I’ve always loved this word when trying to explain something that connects in deeper and emotional ways. In the hierarchy of words for expressing such a communication connection, I think they rank in this order:

  • Hear: A surface-level value, meaning I recognize your words.
  • Understand: I get what your words mean.
  • Agree: I hear, understand, and agree with what you’re saying.
  • Align: I not only agree with what you’re saying, but my thinking runs parallel to yours.
  • Resonate: All the above, but now I connect with your thoughts on a deeper, emotional and profound level, as though your words are touching my soul and spirit, and nesting into my psyche.

Unfortunately, “resonate” has drifted to where some see it as pretentious or hip to use, and thus dilutes it a bit and can elicit a raised eyebrow from the one you’re communicating with. Still, it remains a special word that best explains something deeply connecting or affecting.

Despite the potential stigma of pretension (what a great punk rock band name – Potential Stigma of Pretension), there’s nothing else out there (yet) that fits and conveys as well as “resonate.”

2 Responses

  1. Maybe this is what you meant by the older definition, but I use the term in this regard: “produce or be filled with a deep, full, reverberating sound”: When something “rings true” for me.

    1. Good one! I certain get the sonic harmonic vibrations as a metaphor for “ringing true” as well, but I’ve talked to some who don’t get that connection, so the new, alternate meaning seems to work well.

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