the explicit or direct meaning or set of meanings of a word or expression, as distinguished from the ideas or meanings associated with it or suggested by it; the association or set of associations that a word usually elicits for most speakers of a language, as distinguished from those elicited for any individual speaker because of personal experience. Compare connotation.
a word that names or signifies something specific: “Wind” is the denotation for air in natural motion. “Poodle” is the denotation for a certain breed of dog.
the act or fact of denoting; indication.
something that denotes; mark; symbol.
the class of particulars to which a term is applicable.
that which is represented by a sign.

1525–35; < Latin dēnotātiōn- (stem of dēnotātiō) a marking out, equivalent to dēnotāt(us) (past participle of dēnotāre; see denote) + -iōn- -ion Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
denotation (ˌdiːnəʊˈteɪʃən)
1.  the act or process of denoting; indication
2.  a particular meaning, esp one given explicitly rather than by suggestion
3.  a.  referent Compare connotation something designated or referred to
 b.  another name for extension

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

1530s, from L. denotationem, noun of action from denotare (see denote). As a term in logic, from 1843.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary
denotation [(dee-noh-tay-shuhn)]

The basic dictionary meaning of a word, without its connotations. For example, the denotation of the word modern is “belonging to recent times,” although the word may have different connotations.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
Explain that authors must consider words' connotations as well as their
Since the make-up of leagues varies from year to year, denotations are
  sometimes somewhat imprecise.
Such actions formed part of a regulated military response to all major nuclear
  test denotations.
In developing messages, care should be taken to ensure that the meaning of the
  words do not have negative denotations.
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