OED Exercise - DWRL Instructor pages

E314L (Spring 2011)
E314L Assignment: OED Exercise
One of the most important things a reader must keep in mind when doing literary analysis is an
awareness of the text’s strangeness. While all of the works we’re reading this semester are in
modern English, the English language has constantly evolved in the almost three hundred years
between now and Fantomina (1724). Individual words have shifted meanings over time, and at times
authors can play with the double senses of a word to underline ideas and add complications to a
text’s signification.
This assignment is designed to help students learn to account for historical differences in their
reading practices, and also to teach students close reading skills by focusing attention on the smallest
of details: individual word choice. Your task in this essay is to choose one of the works we’ve
covered so far in the semester—Fantomina and “Goblin Market”—and use the Oxford English
Dictionary (OED) to discover all of the varying meanings of one particular word in the text.
1. Choose one word from the following list:
Fantomina: character, virtue, doubt, intrigue, phantom
“Goblin Market”: fruit, ripe
2. Locate the word in the text. How many times does your word get repeated in the story?
Take careful notes about each time the word appears and in what contexts: does it mean the
same thing at every iteration?
3. Go to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and look up the word. Read through the entry
carefully, noting period-appropriate definitions, the word’s etymology, and all of its various
forms. If you click on the link “About This Entry,” you can see a bar graph that shows
when the different senses of the word overlap in time.
4. Go back to the text and identify the definitions that you see being used. Pick a passage from
the text that you think is important, list at least three different definitions that you think are
in play in the passage, and write a short paragraph the ways in which these different
definitions significantly contribute to the text’s meaning in the passages.
The only source you’ll need for this essay is the OED. Make sure to format your essay in 12 point
Times New Roman or Palatino, with one-inch margins, double-spaced. It should be between 1-2
pages in length. This exercise will be graded for thoughtful completion—have you used the OED to
identify new meanings of the word that help give insight into the text? Have you picked a passage
and definitions that show something new about the story, and have you explained in detail why this
is so? This assignment is due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, February 8.