Linguistics 110, S19, 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 investigate the ways in which the saying is true, with reference to doublets, folk etymology, paradigm gaps, reanalysis, taboo words, euphemisms, and other word-specific processes. On the other hand, we explore the general factors, including famous sound changes like Grimm's Law and the Great Vowel Shift.

An additional goal of the course is to familiarize you with 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. Although we tend to think of crowdsourcing as a phenomenon of the Computer Age, the OED has published crowdsourcing appeals from its very beginning in the 1800s, and we will attempt to participate (see below).


Your grade will be based on the mean of the grades for about 10 written assignments (see below for details).

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