Sunday, January 28th, 2018...7:47 pmMarissa

“Polysemy” In Music

Jump to Comments

Polysemy: A linguistic term for a word’s capacity to carry two or more distinct meanings.

Polysemy is when the author of a song, or any literary work, uses one word that has two different meanings that changes the intended meaning of the song as a whole. An example could be if an author wrote, “The girl was blue.” One meaning is that she was literally the color blue, but a more probable answer is that the girl was upset or sad. These are two completely different meanings to the sentence, and interpreting it wrong can cause the intended audience to think the overall meaning is different.

The song that I picked that has an example of polysemy is “3005” by Childish Gambino. In the lyrics to the song 3005, there is an example of polysemy when Childish Gambino says: “Beans they took from the cabinet (Whoa).” This is an example polysemy because when he says, “Beans,” it has two completely different meanings. Beans can mean the actual vegetable that you would find growing in a garden, such as green beans, but in this case, the beans mean the drug ecstasy that one would.

This term makes you think about the song in an unexpected way because instead of thinking that he is talking about them taking his food by raiding his cabinets, he is actually talking about them stealing his drugs. This double meaning changes the way that the listeners interpret the line because it transforms the song from innocent, or more innocent, to a song with a worse meaning. It was unexpected to me because I am used to my friends coming over and raiding my cabinets and that line of the song was relatable, but understanding it as ecstasy changes the way I interpret the song.


Lyrics Cited:



  • I like this literary term. I think that everything has two sides, or double meanings – probably because I’m a humanities person, while math/science people might argue the opposite. In the song you choose about the “bean” the author most likely meant the drug, however not all readers or listeners always understand the intended meanings of the authors. It’s interesting because you said that you thought the word “bean” meant the literal vegetable, which goes to the show that the audience listening to or reading a piece of art might conclude something totally different. This idea that the audience can conclude a different meaning proves how there are different meanings to a singular piece of art – it just depends upon what angle you are using, and your knowledge of the subject. For example, the song “Baby its Cold Outside” by Frank Loesser has two meanings, however the second meaning is more hided and requires knowledge of the subject. On the surface the song seems to be about a guy trying to keep a girl warm on a cold night, the deeper meaning is that the guy is trying to seduce the girl – making it more sexual. It seems the more one delves into a piece, the more “ugly” truth they uncover.

    I conclude that when reading, listening to, etc. a piece of art it is important to ask yourself/answer 1.) What the author intended to say here, and 2.) What you think the piece is about. Then you are more likely to see the multiple sides, and understand the complexities.

  •   Professor Seiler
    February 5th, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    Marissa, I’m with Elizabeth in really liking your example. Also: I had no idea “beans” is an idiom for ecstasy. In both your song example and your “blue girl” example, “idiom” seems to be the operative word. Do you know it?

Leave a Reply