Linguistics 110, S18, The history of words

Course description

It is sometimes said that every word has its own history. But there are also general factors affecting how words change over time. In this course, we explore both aspects of the history of words. On the one hand, we explore the ways in which the saying is true, by investigating taboo words, euphemisms, shibboleths, doublets, folk etymology, idioms, paradigm gaps, reanalysis, and other word-specific processes. On the other hand, we discuss the general factors, such as regular sound change (notably the Great Vowel Shift), word frequency, and possibly others.

In addition to exposing you to the word-specific and the general processes that affect words, this class has an additional goal of turning you into an informed and competent user of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). There is not the shadow of a doubt that the OED is the world's greatest lexicographic project, and as you will see, it is a treasure trove of information about English words and their history.


There will be several written assignments over the course of the semester (mostly in the first half of the semester). There will also be one longer paper due at the end of the semester, which should be about 15 pages long. The topic is yours to choose, but you should consult with me.

The style manual for the course is the Chicago Manual of Style, which is accessible online from Van Pelt Library. Use the author-date system for references (Chapter 15). Electronic sources are discussed in Chapter 14.

Where possible, your references should include pages or page ranges.

Please submit your assignments by email as .pdf attachments. Both the filename and the subject line of your email should include the class (Ling 110), the assignment number, and your last name.

Your grade will be based on the longer paper (50% 25%) and the shorter assignments (the remaining 50% 75% divided equally). The letter equivalent will be calculated as follows:

A - 90 and up
B - 80-89
C - 70-79
D - 60-69
F - 59 and down