Weekly Assignment 2: Reading for Lexis or Diction ENG 3010 Lexis is Greek for “word” (think of “lexicon”), and diction (related to “dictionary”) comes from the Latin dicere: “to say.” Both words can be used to describe the particular kinds of words a writer uses. Specialized vocabularies or jargons or discourses develop in the niches of any society. There are words that belong to the technical lexicons of, say, medicine, or beauty salons, or accounting departments, though they are nevertheless part of the English language. Dictionaries often identify one of the uses of such words as belonging to that lexicon, while other uses of the word might belong to the culture at large. The lexical affiliations of words provide a palette of meaning for the poet, who can combine different lexicons to produce intricate effects of elevation or comedy or criticism. For instance, a poet can produce a very different result by describing love using medical terms (“His kiss produced atrial fibrillation”) than she can using baseball terminology (“He tried to kiss her but struck out”). As you’re reading the General Prologue, look for the jargons of social niches of medieval English culture. Sometimes Chaucer uses a word that has a specialized meaning in a way that plays that meaning against its normal street use; sometimes the result encourages the reader to take an attitude of praise, sometimes of skepticism, sometimes of outright disgust. For example, the description of the “Sergeant of the Lawe” (the Lawyer) uses quite a lot of specialized legal terminology (“assise,” patente,” “fee simple,” etc.), especially for such a short passage. The portrait of the Sergeant of Lawe is fairly neutral, but the narrator does say that he “seemed bisier than he was” (324)—that is, he is the kind of man who cultivates the appearance of his own importance. The saturation of legal terminology in this passage produces a similar effect: it encourages the reader to be impressed with him, even if they have no real evidence of his abilities. Perhaps it is these fancy words that make him sound “so wise” (315). Find an interesting example of a jargon word in the Prologue and explain, in a couple of paragraphs, how it works. Use the Middle English Dictionary (http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/med/) to try to confirm whether your word is drawn from a specialized lexicon. Can you find other examples of that jargon in the Prologue? You may need evidence from the ME dictionary to prove your point because words, as you’ve probably noticed while reading Chaucer, change their meanings over time. As always, this assignment is due before class on Thursday (2/6), either in an email to me or in hard copy.