The issue of people using the term 'song' to refer to any piece of music has come up again, and that prompted me to think more seriously about it than I had.
I think it's not really very important. There are far worse things happening in our culture currently. Yes it is possible that this degradation of verbal precision is symptomatic of larger issues.
It may also just be an example of a natural shift in usage. Even people who know they are listening to a symphony or a sonata will do it. Why? Are they stupid? I don't think so, not all of them. Badly educated? Probably, but that may not be the actual cause. Obviously it would not be the first time a word in English developed very different meanings according to context.
People don't always want to use the technical name for a piece of music. It has always been perfectly reasonable for a knowledgeable person to choose to say "this is a lovely piece" instead of "this is a lovely symphony". As was said already 'piece' isn't exactly an appealing word for that context, and in modern usage it has developed a less savory connotation which may have contributed to people using it less, at least in past decades.
So there may be something deeper going on, a tendency to want to express that a piece of music is musical, is affecting, like a 'song', so that when people reach for a word to indicate a piece of music, they shy away from a technical term like 'symphony' and choose instead the evocative 'song'.
I am all for precision in language, and logic in thought. I wouldn’t use ‘song’ in this way, and in some contexts I might be so pedantic as to correct someone. But I don't see the issue as a big deal. It's not offensive, it's not a clear indication of anything in particular
Perhaps professionals in music should see this shift in usage as a sign that they have failed to offer a better alternative to 'piece' or 'tune' (which has a kind of folksy cachet which won't appeal to everyone) as a word to refer to "an instance of music".
My question for those who are really troubled by it would be: if this issue bothers you regardless of context, does it really mean everything you assign to it?
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