Words in English public website
LING 216 course information
Rice University
Prof S. Kemmer


On Where to Get the Words in your Word Journal

The basic rule for selecting words to write about in your word journal is: The words must be caught "live", that is in an actual use in writing or speech. The speaker/writer must have used the word to convey a meaning in context.

That means, I'm not interested in words that you find in compilations of words that somebody brought together to illustrate new words from a given realm. Don't contribute words that you found in "The Hackers' Dictionary" for example, or in other books/articles/web pages about words.

Find as many of your words as possible yourself. If other people outside the class bring you new words, they are only usable if you have an exact quote and date (if spoken) and in addition the written source (if written). Don't use words collected by other people in this class or in past years' classes.

Catch them in your ordinary everyday reading, conversations, lectures, watching TV, etc.

Provide as accurate a source for your words as possible: e.g. "New York Times 11/3/13; "conversation with roommate 8/16/10"; "Jerry Springer show, 2/4/13. The date is important, as it helps in tracking down first uses of words and in situating uses in time. A word cited for a given date in 2013 might be the first instance recorded (especially for nonce words); a word cited in 2005 might no longer be new in 2014, or a word cited in 2010 might change its meaning by 2015. The source is important too, as it gives information about what genre of language the word belongs to. And for written sources, the source can also be checked. (Lexicographers do this all the time, to make sure their citations are accurate.)

Finally, be sure that you come up with your own definitions of your words. Even if you learn the meaning of a word from a dictionary (e.g. in the "words not known to you"), don't just copy out the dictionary definition. Figure out a way to write the definition in reasonably non-technical language.

In sum:

© Suzanne Kemmer
Last modified August 2017