Criticism, for many people, carries the same meaning as judgment. In fact, one of the top synonyms of criticism is judgment. And one of the top synonyms of critic is judge. No wonder people have such a hard time with this term! Who wants to be judged? Obviously, people get defensive when it comes to being criticized. They can’t see the benefits, because the judgment side of it is so overpowering. And in today’s society, the word judgment doesn’t exactly carry a good connotation.

But if you go back in time, a clearer picture of why those two words are synonymous with words like judge and judgment begins to form. In the English language, we often forget that our words have a social and historical context to them. Language develops out of culture, and it affects how we perceive the words we use. There can be so many connotations to a word, and if we don’t look at the historical and social context, we can miss the whole point.

Let’s take just two words as an example. First, the word “awful” used to mean something that was inspiring. Today, awful means something bad or terrible. Quite a difference, right? Complete opposites really. For the second example, take the word “thongs.” Thongs used to refer to a pair of flip-flops, but we all know very well that that is not what people refer to now when they say, “I want to buy thongs.” In fact, I can just imagine the reaction of a teenager who overhears that sentence, especially if it’s their grandmother who says it.

Judgment and criticism have also suffered the same, although not as comical, misconceptions. A judgment was the opinion of a person of high regard. It used to carry the meaning of a belief or opinion based on study and higher education. Today, we often think of a judgment as an opinion based in ignorance, not education.

The word judge has gone through even more changes. In Jewish history, judges were leaders. The word had a positive connotation of strong, protective individuals. Then, judges became those who bore the responsibility of sentencing those who committed crimes. Again, not meant to have a negative connotation, but perhaps during the years of slavery, that all changed. Today, we tend to think of judges more so as those on American Idol or The Voice.

The point being, we need to take a deep breath and a step back when we think of the words criticism or critic. Although they have been distorted over the years, they truly do represent concepts that mirror our idea of positive feedback, which is only meant to help you develop in your area of expertise.