ENG367Y: Second term research paper (20%)


Due:                Friday, 4th April, 2003, by 6pm.

At:               In class, or to the Wetmore Hall Porter.

Length:          2500 words (10 250-word pages).

LATE:              2% per “working” day, until Friday April 11th (-10%).

I am not permitted to accept any work after the last day of term, April 11th.

Remember that your take-home exam will be given out on Thursday April 3rd and is due on Thursday April 10th.


Purpose:        To assemble and to study a set of synonyms or near-synonyms (e.g. words like holy, saintly) in Old and Middle English – in order to describe and explain changes in the lexis (words appearing, disappearing), meanings (metaphor? generalization? specialization? pejoration? amelioration? etc.), and distribution (you might consider formality, text-type) of words.

This is more interesting than it might sound – words for sex, death, marriage, excrement, killing or servants were the subjects of some of last year’s “A” papers.

I’m expecting you to focus the paper once you’ve assembled your data. One of the best papers last year ended up narrowing from “words for mental illness” to “words for epilepsy and epileptics”. Another paper focussed on the very specific concept of “to make dirty” (literally and figuratively). Another paper (by somebody called Flora) looked at a few words denoting the flower. Make this topic your own.

Some topics will seem more straightforward than others: it’s your job to find a way of showing off your ability to analyze definitions and quotations and to synthesize and explain broader patterns. Depending upon the topic, you may wish to contextualize your topic in a larger issue (e.g. the use of French in legal terminology) or use it to solve a particular problem – (e.g. the distinction for Chaucer between two apparent synonyms like dreme and sweven, the distinction between holy and saintly in PDE).

Do feel free to consult me at any time about how to focus or develop your topic! And I want you to work on something that you’re thoroughly engaged by, so if nothing strikes your fancy on the list, go look at the Thesaurus and see what does. If you’re terrified of this, deal with the terror by going to look at the thesaurus: 3rd floor Robarts, short-term loan, PE 279 R62.


Topics: I’ve listed only one or two OE words – you find other OE and ME words! You will have to check your topic in the Thesaurus of Old English: the numeric code corresponds to the corresponding section. You might want to use its index to make sure that you’ve got everything!


1.      Words denoting “a nation, people” (, e.g. folc, Ţeode. {Notice that it distinguishes “race, tribe” from “nation, people”: you may want to refocus the topic, depending upon your interests).

2.      Words denoting “to have sexual intercourse with” (, e.g. (ge)licgan (wiŢ, mid), cunnan, etc. [The same section has lots on conception, child-bearing, etc.]

3.      Words denoting “disease, infirmity” (02.08.02), e.g. sēocnes, unhaelđ, untrumnes, etc.

4.      Words in the semantic field of “mental health” (02.08.11), e.g. gemaed, wōd, etc.

5.      Words meaning “to kill, slay” (, e.g. (ge)cwellan, ofslēan, etc.

6.      Words meaning “to die” (02.02.03), e.g. steorfan, sweltan, forđ(ge)faran, etc. You might focus on euphemisms!

7.      Words denoting parts of the body (e.g. the leg,, e.g. lim, scanc.

8.      Words denoting language (09.03), e.g. (ge)spraec, tung, etc.

9.      Words denoting the sky, heavens (01.02.01), e.g. heofon, lyft, etc.

10.  Words denoting dirt, filth, squalor (04.06.02) – go look!

11.  Words denoting trust, faith, confidence (, e.g. gelēafa, trēow, hopa, etc.

12.  Words denoting joy, happiness (, e.g. bliss, drēam, glaednes, myrđ, etc.

13.  Words denoting misery or sadness (08.01.03) – go look!

14.  Words denoting ability, capacity (11.04), e.g. craeft, maegen, miht, geweald, etc.; see also 12.01.01 for words denoting power, might.

15.  Words denoting help, aid (11.12.02), e.g. help, fultum, etc.

16.  Words denoting followers ( and servants (, e.g. cniht, cnapa, -mann, etc. (=knight, knave, ­-man)

17.  Words denoting counsel, advice (, e.g. lār, raed, etc.

18.  Words denoting a province, country, territory (12.06) – go look!

19.  Words denoting a town, city, village (, e.g. burg, tūn, etc.

20.  Words denoting foreign-ness (12.06.05) – go look!

21.  Words relating to marriage (12.09...) – go look!

22.  Words relating to trade and commerce (15.05) – go look!


If nothing catches your fancy here, go browse the thesaurus and see what does (there are words for privies, for instance, or for poetry).Then submit a written proposal containing the words that you’d like to look at. Your proposal should include (a) OE words listed in a xerox of the relevant entry from the Thesaurus of Old English, (b) Middle English words, (c) a sketch of what you expect to find. Topic proposals must be submitted in writing to me by Thursday, March 13th.

The paper: process and final product


Watch this space on the web for any additional info arising from your questions!


The process: You will have to be resourceful and thorough in assembling a list of OE and ME words. Finding OE words will involve using the Thesaurus of Old English (PE 279 R62 short term loan at Robarts, 3rd floor); finding ME words may involve working back from a PDE thesaurus and then using quotations with ME words in order to find other ME synonyms. If you are really keen, you may want to search the Dictionary of Old English’s online corpus: you’ll find more contexts for your word, but will have to translate them yourself! The DOE also has a “Latin-Old English word wheel”, identifying all the different OE words used to translate one Latin word. How to find the Latin word? There are online English-Latin dictionary databases like this one.

You will have to determine the distribution of words in OE (consider things like their frequency, the kinds of texts they occurred in). Some words may have been confined to poetic texts, for instance, which is full of alliterating archaisms; some words may only have occurred once or twice. Use your judgment to limit the topic: leave out words that don’t occur very often in OE prose. You will have to identify and classify the meaning(s) of each OE word. Did any words overlap in meaning? Use dictionary definitions and quotations critically! Bosworth-Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary and its Supplement(PE 279 B55 GENR, TRIF, UC, VICR, SMCR, IMSF) have quotations as well as longer definitions than you’ll find in Clark-Hall’s Concise dictionary. If your word survived into ME, you should be able to find it in the OED. You cannot leave this topic until the last minute!

You will have to determine the distribution of words in ME (surviving words from OE, new words from Scandinavian, French, etc., what their denotations and connotations were, whether they occurred in particular text-types, whether they only occur as rhyme words). How many OE words seem to have become obsolete? Did any of the words from OE change in meaning? did any of the ME words change in meaning during the ME period? Again, you will have to synthesize definitions from different dictionaries, using these resources critically: from the OED, comparing its definitions to those in the Middle English Dictionary (PE 679 M54 GENR, VUPR, IMSF).

You will need to be knowledgeable about the subject(s) denoted by your words. I would use a good encyclopedia like the Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England (DA 152 B58 GENRef) or Medieval England: an encyclopedia (DA 129 M43 GENRef) in order to get basic information and a working bibliography. There are some fine online bibliographies of the OE period by Biggam and Keynes. Online secondary sources from reputable (academic, institutional) sources are the only acceptable internet resources for this assignment.

There may be scholarly articles and books on your topic: check the e-index Linguistics and Language Behavior (U of T’s e-indexes), the bibliographies in Old English Word Studies (PE 239 C35 ROBA “mix”), the Historical Thesaurus of Old English (online: find links on my “HELL” OE/ME pages). Online secondary sources from reputable (academic, institutional) sources are the only acceptable internet resources for this assignment.

Finally, remember that I will be evaluating your ability to do research, to analyze, to synthesize, and to interpret: make sure that your paper gives me the opportunity to assess all of these things.


The product.  Your essay should focus your topic somehow, and should describe and explain the order that you’ve managed to impose on your data. Once you’ve identified the relevant words and classified their meanings and distributions, you’ll describe and account for the patterns that you’ve found. Does an OE word narrow in meaning (deor) when an ME word appears (beast)? Does it shift in register (i.e. moving from mostly legal use into ordinary use)? Does it disappear completely? Are ME words distinguished by meaning? register? region? connotation? Try to explain how changes in distribution and/or meaning may have occurred.

Depending upon the topic, it may be appropriate to carry your story through early modern or modern English in order to explain the distribution of the words (e.g. what’s the difference between royal and regal and kingly? between tale and story?) Don’t hesitate to ask me for advice.




It is an academic offence "to represent as one's own an idea or expression of an idea or work of another in any academic ... work" (Faculty of Arts and Science Calendar).


If I encounter plagiarism I must report it to my department chair, who must report it to the Dean. The U of T Writing Home Page has invaluable advice on “How Not To Plagiarize”. Please consult me at any time if you remain in any doubt about if and/or how to acknowledge the assistance of others.