While writing the blog post “What Do You Mean by God?,” I wrote several pages of supplementary notes that I’ve begun posting (in slightly polished/revised) form as a series on what I call the “denotation switch.” As I put it in the “…God?” post:
The denotation switch takes several forms, but essentially comes down to a hidden, subtle, or obvious usage deviation from what a word either usually denotes, or would be reasonably expected to denote in a given context; this deviation may be consciously or unconsciously motivated or performed.
A silly example would be if I told you I’m giving you the fifty bucks I owe you while handing you a penny and saying that “fifty bucks” is what I call pennies. …
… [Here’s] the first denotation switch I remember experiencing. … I put into the house stereo [at the restaurant where I worked] a tape from the popular Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares series (this would have been about 1989, the year the second volume of the series won a grammy). A chef bolted over to turn it off. He thought it was terrible. I said, “But you told me you love all music.” He said, “I do love all music! But this… is not music.”
The denotation switch comes up in other of my posts as well, but I believe these are the ones where it’s most explicitly addressed.