As language develops over time, its limits have forced us to economize. In the evolution of English, the most common way this is accomplished is through imbuing existing words with multiple meanings.
“New word meanings come about when there’s a need to express something new,” says Barbara C. Malt, professor of psychology and director of Lehigh’s Cognitive Science Program. “For instance, the original meaning of the word ‘grasp’ only described holding something physically. Later, ‘grasp’ also came to mean holding something in a metaphorical sense, such as ‘grasping an idea.’”