ENG G301/D600: History of English Language

Spring 2010

Professor Fleming

 

Etymology Project

“Webster’s Dictionary defines project as a collaborative enterprise, frequently involving research or design,that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.”

 

One aim of this project is to get you to never (again?) write a sentence like the above, and cringe every time to see one like it in the future.

 

Summary:

Pick a word, put your name after the word you want.  DUE: before class Thursday, Jan 21 

Research the word (from the resources I tell you to use on the bibliography)

Write a 3-5 page paper detailing the etymology, history, meanings, uses, and misconceptions of your word.

Post your paper online on our class wiki.  DUE Thursday Feb 18

Read and evaluate each other’s projects (anonymously).  DUE Thursday February 25

 

Example of how you might begin your paper

 

Further particulars:

1. Pick a word (duh).  First come first served.

 

2. Research the word:

Look up the word in as many dictionaries you can find; certainly all the ones on the bibliography.  You must start with the OED and W3 (Webster’s Third International).  Read these definitions and understand them.  Take notes: trace the historical development(s) of the word.  Look at the etymology of the word: understand this (look up any abbreviations you don't know.  Ask me for help if you need it).  Follow up hyperlinks and internal references.  The full etymology of your word might involve the etymology of another word.  If the information is to be found in the OED, it is your responsibility to find it.   Look at the possible spellings of the word.  Now take all this information and explain it, in your own words.  Perhaps start with the etymology and then explain the development of the word, paying attention to dates of citations.

EXAMPLE

Now look up your word in additional resources: see bibliography.  Naturally, not all words will be covered in all sources.  If you are unsure whether your word will appear in a given resource, CHECK!  Begin with the other reputable general dictionaries, and look for discrepancies among the dictionaries.  Do the etymologies, definitions, and order of senses concur with that in OED and W3?   Are there any editorial comments regarding the usage of this word?  Is it considered informal, colloquial, vulgar?  Note the exact words each dictionary uses.  Is there controversy about the word’s use?  If so, how does its historical usage (which you've discovered in the OED) compare with the dictionaries’ recommendation?  See if the historical dictionaries—Samuel Johnson's and Noah Webster's—define your word.  Why or why not, do you suppose? 

 

If appropriate, now look up your word in the dictionaries of slang / swearing. How do the etymologies in these sources compare to those in the OED?  Do these resources contain a greater range of definitions?  Do they disagree in any way with any of the general dictionaries?

 

Now you should have a good formal, academic handle on your word: now it's safe for you to venture onto the internet.  Google your word, with an eye towards discovering popular perceptions of its etymology, history, “proper” usage, and meaning.  (search string examples: fuck origin, fuck etymology; decimate meaning, decimate usage, etc.).  We’re partly looking for popular solutions which are discordant with the academic resources.  However, we are also interested in discovering how likely a Google (or comparable) search is of coming up with a correct answer.  Therefore keep track of what search engine you use, what search terms you use, and what number result shows up.  Also take note of interesting websites which provide good or bad information.  (And don’t forget to copy addresses!).

 

Also check:

urbandictionary   snopes    and    wikipedia

Snopes is a debunking website, which will hopefully counter some of the fantastic word origins you may have found.  Urbandictionary is a user-generated dictionary which ranks definitions by popularity.  Note the most popular definition, the ratio of “thumbs up” to “thumbs down,” and other noteworthy definitions.  For slang words, these resources may give us insight into popular perceptions of a word.  For seemingly non-slang words, you may discover a slang usage you do not know of.  See if Wikipedia deals with the history of your word, and how accurately it does so.

 

3. Write a paper

Take all the information you’ve been absorbing (or copy and pasting) and present it in clear, polished academic prose.  Your audience (and evaluators) will be your classmates and me.  Because we  will be posting and reading these online, you may find including headers and subheadings (as well as links) a useful way of organizing your paper.  You are welcomed to do so.

 

Helpful hints:

When discussing a word as a word, put it in italics. 

Runt is a ridiculous word, which bears no etymological relation to run.”

When using items from the bibliography, use the short titles I have provided.   You need not provide a bibliography of any of these items.

 

Word List (sign up for your word on our wiki)

 

ain't

awesome

bitch

brassiere

cool

cop

corn

crap

cunt

data

decimate

disinterested

dive/dove

dress

enormity

fee

fuck

gay

genius

gentle

girl

happy

history

holy

hooker

mad

mystery

nature

naughty

nice

niggardly

none

obnoxious

putz

sad

schmuck

shit

silly

sneak/snuck

suit

swag

twat

virtue

watch

wop