Words in English
Linguistics/English 215
Prof. S. Kemmer


These essays are part of Midterm #3, Fall 2002. Choose ONE of the following two essays. Type or computer-print out your essay, and bring them to class on Dec. 3, the day on which the rest of Midterm #3 is taken in class. Aim for about 2 pages in length (single or double-spaced) for one essay. Anything more than 4 pages double-spaced for your essay is going overboard and you should prune it back. Try to write concisely in any case.

Do ONE of Essay 1 OR Essay 2.

Total points for Essay: 40. Total points for exam: 100.

Each of the words below has an interesting history. Tell the history of one or more of the words from each group (Group I and Group II). Discuss the main semantic changes undergone by the words. Identify semantic change processes that occurred at various points, such as metaphor and metonymy and any other types of change you notice. You can relate the words you discuss to each other if there are similarities in the semantic changes they underwent or ways that they are clearly in contrast.

Imagine that your audience comprises educated people interested in words.

Sources: You can use online or print dictionaries or any other published sources (print or electronic) as long as you cite them. The Oxford English dictionary and its supplements probably have the most detailed histories with supporting quotes. Some dictionaries don't have enough etymological detail to find a coherent story, so keep looking for one that allows you to extract what happened in the history of a given word. If you use the web, be wary of taking information from it uncritically; each of these words has a known etymology and trajectory of change, found in reference works and other books on word origins. Information from the sites of individuals on the web, on the other hand, is often just wrong. Cite URLs if you do use information from any websites, whether online dictionaries or other sites you find.

For this essay, don't communicate with people (in or out of class, electronically or non-electronically), just use sources that are already printed or posted.

The fewer words you select to tell the story of, the more detail you should go into. Whether detailed or not, a story about a given word should be coherent enough for anybody reading it to understand the basic etymology of the word. Aim for about 2-3 pages. Make the entire essay a coherent whole with short introductory and summary statements, and coherent transitions between the discussions of the words, so that your essay is an essay rather than a list of completely unconnected word stories.

Group I. Native words

  • with
  • against
  • lord
  • finger

    Group II. Borrowed words

  • hoosegow
  • cappuccino
  • paparazzi
  • gamut
  • clock

    ESSAY 2.
    Discuss a sociolinguistic situation in some part of the world today that is reminiscent of a situation that occurred some time in the earlier history of English. Discuss the similarities and differences of the two situations, using concepts we studied in class such as prescriptivism, standardization, shibboleths, socioeconomic and/or prestige status of particular groups, social institutions, and any other concepts that seem relevant. Give specific examples for your points as much as possible. Make your essay a coherent whole.

    Cite sources. Make sure factual information given is supported by published or otherwise authoritative sources. There is a lot of incorrect 'information', and opinions masquerading as fact, on the internet, in particular about current linguistic situations in the United States and some other countries.

    © 2002 Suzanne Kemmer