We're obviously totally on a tangent here, so I'll just carry on. (Sorry Wayneman!)
I'm interested in words and communication so can't resist commenting on the language issue.
In short, connotation is everything. (Just as perception is everything in many situations).
I think it is up to the person speaking or writing to get their audience to understand their message. Even if we know what we mean, if our readers or listeners don't get it, even if they are friendly and are trying to understand us, then surely we need to at least consider the possibility that we have a failure to communicate that could be originating with us. I particularly regret having people misunderstand a point I am trying to make and I especially dislike being misquoted or misrepresented (even if it's an honest misunderstanding). I have long since given up thinking that it's "everybody else" who isn't understanding my clear (to myself) intent. Simply, if the intended audience fails to quite easily understand what I'm trying to say, I think it's up to me to rephrase, explain, do-over, or whatever it takes to achieve some meeting of the minds.
I am Canadian, with a close British ancestry (meaning, all relatives were born in various UK countries, as I was myself). The terms I use are a mixture of both countries and I see a big difference between the two and there is also quite a difference between Canada and the U.S. in terms of language, even though we are all speaking English.
My cousin, visiting from the UK, fell over laughing when she saw "fanny packs" on sale at the shop. In her country, "fanny" is considered a raunchy word. She had been asking for a "bum bag" which, in turn, I thought was startlingly crude. When I lived in Quebec, the English-speaking guys would crack up at the horrified expressions they could elicit from the locals by using "tabernacle" (with a French accent) as a swear word. (French Catholics were not amused).
Most religious folks have a particular sensitivity to swearing, especially profanity that uses words, expressions and concepts that touch things that are sacred to them. I used to especially wince when "holy" was placed before a vulgarity as it intensified the aural shock for me.
Obviously, words have different meanings to different people, especially in different cultures. Some terms are used with impunity no matter who the audience is, with the user obviously not attributing the same meaning or at least not having the same reaction as some readers/listeners do. I'm not saying that we need to always modify our language for the sake of the most sensitive in the group (although that is often seen as being just good manners) but just that the same words have different meanings even for people in the same culture.
So, yes, connotation is very important. And if you care about those who will hear or read your words, or at least want to take into consideration the way they will "hear" you and the perceptions they will have of your message and intent, then you will care about connotation, I'd say.
Just as I think it is very simplistic to say that if someone is "offended" by something in The Church it is their fault, so too, to me, is it missing the point to think that the words you write or utter mean what you think they mean, disregarding how your audience will react.
I work with a big fat ]Oxford Reference English dictionary by my side and frequently check connotation, to be sure that my exact meaning will be apparent in the words I choose, even in recreational writing. In my work, choosing the absolute most correct term is essential (medicine-related). That enhances to me the importance of using language correctly and well. Not that I'm an expert, by any means, but it does make me very conscious of meanings and connotations.
Obviously, there are strict definitions of words but also there is the colloquial meaning, which is often more important than the original meaning in conveying your intent. I have had to abandon some terms I used to use due to changing meanings and new colloquial understandings (the common language changes at an amazing rate!). I figure if your audience is likely going to misunderstand you or if your words are out-of-date you need to modify your language, if you want to communicate well.
So, to the point. There can be many different (and strangely diverse) meanings for a word. How we choose to use it can determine the meaning/connotation to the audience. A physician can say to a patient "You're just going to feel a little prick" as s/he administers an immunization. Obviously, that is a perfectly fine word to use, in context. However, if s/he said to a child patient who was uncooperative, "You little prick" that is not acceptable. Same word. Different meaning. Tone and intent also colour the connotation of the words we choose to convey our message.
Here are the definitions in the Online Dictionary for the word "prick":
a. The act of piercing or pricking.
b. The sensation of being pierced or pricked.
a. A persistent or sharply painful feeling of sorrow or remorse.
b. A small, sharp, local pain, such as that made by a needle or bee sting.
3. A small mark or puncture made by a pointed object.
4. A pointed object, such as an ice pick, goad, or thorn.
5. A hare's track or footprint.
6. Vulgar Slang A penis.
7. Vulgar Slang A person regarded as highly unpleasant, especially a male.
- - -
I have to say that when I read "You are a self-righteous prick", it falls into the #6 and 7 category for me. I certainly don't think of an ox, a goad or a hare. I don't really think of a penis either but in my experience and environment, it is considered crude at best to call someone a "prick". I wouldn't expect to see/hear a church member using that word to describe a fellow church member. (Not that my expectations govern anyone else's actions but just saying how it comes across to me). I don't really see any "critics" using that term against LDS posters, with a few notable and extreme exceptions. That is partly why it is so surprising to see it used by an active LDS.
In a case like this, I definitely think that what an audience understands the meaning to be should be considered by the writer/speaker. You can object 1000 times to people taking that as a vulgar expression but it doesn't change the fact that that is the connotation of it.
I think it highly possible that someone could use a term and not be that familiar with the vulgar meaning of it. I used to use a certain term that I kind of made up (I thought) to express displeasure with someone (often a crazy driver I encountered on the road). My sister heard me one day and with shock (because I don't swear big) informed me PDQ that I should choose another term as that one is highly vulgar. I had no idea! But I didn't spend a lot of time trying to defend the untenable position that I didn't mean it that way, therefore it was not vulgar.
On another note but still on this thread, I must say that I was startled, yet somewhat amused, to read harmony's references to the beach, even mentioning being naked on the beach (in general, not her, I think) and then shortly thereafter saying to DCP [if you want to go to the beach] "you know where I am". I am positive that, of course, she didn't mean anything suggestive at all but it did read that way, at least to me. In such cases, juxtaposition also plays into connotation! It was good for a laugh. In a friendly way. :)
Sorry for length. Just wanted to say that in my world, words are vital and connotation is crucial so I pay a lot of attention to language. And audience is critical so I make an effort to communicate effectively.
To me, the other crazy thing about this thread and many others like it is that the "critics" of the LDS Church can just stand back and watch the members tear each other's eyes out (eg: Scratch and harmony vs. DCP). I'm still amazed by that. Maybe it's more honest, though, than in my world where believers stick together and generally don't rip into each other in front of non-believers. (We save that for church meetings, lol).