Broke vs. Poor

by Broke Grad on March 21, 2008

In elementary school, we are taught the difference between the denotation and connotation of a word. For those of you who may have missed that day, the denotation is the literal meaning of a word, and the connotation is the emotional association attached to word in addition to the literal meaning. The connotation of a word is subjective and varies based on cultural differences.

Because of connotation, you can use two words that mean the exact same thing, but get a totally different reaction based on which word you choose. Take two words you constantly hear when people talk about money — broke and poor. According to the dictionary and thesaurus, broke and poor mean the exact same thing, but if you ask someone whether they would rather be broke or poor, I think most people would be able to give you an answer.

Broke and poor may be interchangeable, but the feeling the words convey are completely different. Imagine if I had called myself Poor Grad Student, instead of Broke Grad Student. Would you think differently of me?

I feel that broke describes a temporary state of affairs. I may be broke now, but I will not always be broke in the future. On the other hand, poor seems to describe a more permanent condition. Someone who is poor is likely to stay poor in the future. The word poor evokes a sense of hopelessness, while the word broke still elicits a sense of hope.

Not surprisingly, I’d prefer being broke over being poor any day of the week. I’ve felt broke many times throughout college, but I’ve never felt poor. I chose the name Broke Grad Student, because I am hopeful that I’ll get out of my student debt in a reasonable amount of time.

What do the words broke and poor mean to you?

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