ENG367Y (History of the English Language): PDE lexicon & PDE dictionaries


Due:             Thursday 10th October, 2002

Length:          About 500 words

Format:          Put only your student number on the assignment, not your name.

                        Give Part 1 a specific and appealing title.


In this assignment, you’ll be writing

a. a brief (250-word) explanation of an “English language usage issue”: pretend that you’re a weekly columnist for a newspaper like the Globe (audience: intelligent but general)

b. a brief (250-word) assessment of the usefulness of 3 or more sources for your column: the Oxford English Dictionary, a reputable Canadian desk dictionary such as the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, and at least one other source.


(1)   a properly-formatted bibliography and

(2)   a copy of all non-OED material – thanks.


This assignment is designed

·         to exercise your awareness of the kinds of resources available for investigating (and explaining, if not settling) “usage issues”

·         to alert you to the existence, strengths, and weaknesses of some relevant dictionaries

·         the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary (in print, PE 1625 M7 but often out of sequence because it’s 20 volumes! and/or online)

·         your own desk dictionary and another dictionary

·         to give you the opportunity to investigate a “usage issue” of interest to you

·         to make you aware of some other resources for the study of modern English, e.g.

·         The Oxford companion to the English language, ed. McArthur (PE 1625 O85 GENR, SMCR, TRIF, UNIR, VUPR). Alphabetically-arranged; like the OED, also includes histories of each letter of the alphabet (“E”, “K”, etc.).

·         Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (PE 1460 M45 at Innis, PE 1460 W425 at GENR, SMCR, VUPR & TRIF). Alphabetically-arranged explanation of usage issues.




1.      Pick one of the following topics, or (with my written/e-permission) another topic in which modern Canadian usage is variable and/or contentious:

  1. black or Indian or Jew or native. I have attached entries for “Indian” from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and from Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary.
  2. the spelling of words like honour and glamour in North America
  3. the use of impact as a verb
  4. the use of chair to mean “chairperson, chairman, chairwoman”
  5. variation between 1980s and 1980’s
  6. the plural of words like rhinoceros, octopus, etc.


2.      Look for information for your topic in

  1. the OED,

b. a good Canadian desk dictionary such as the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, and

  1. at least one other relevant source of information for your topic: Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English language, unabridged (PE 1625 W36 GENR, SMCR, TRIF, UNIV, VUPR) may be a good bet.

d.      Obsessive to impress? check out other sources.


3.      Xerox/record the full entry, and make a full bibliographic record for each entry (include publisher, date, etc.). Attach a copy of all-non-OED sources to your report.


4.      For a general but intelligent audience, write an explanation of this usage is


5.      sue in your own lively yet intelligent words (about 250 of them).


6.      For an audience consisting of future ENG367Y students having to do this assignment, assess the advantages and disadvantages of the sources that you chose. Remember that the sources should have been relevant – don’t choose a grammar so that you can find it useless for a lexical investigation!