English 330: Introduction to Renaissance Studies
Professor Rebecca Bushnell
Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Exercise
Due: Jan. 28
The Oxford English Dictionary is a wonderful resource for finding out
what words used to mean, as well as the full range of meanings in our own
usage. Using this dictionary, which cites examples of usage from the
beginnings of modern English until now, you can chart the interesting
shifts in the meanings of English words over the centuries. Any reader of
Renaissance texts encounters words that either are unfamiliar or that
meant something different then than they do now, or have multiple layers
The OED is available both in book and on-line or electronic form. The
book is available in the Van Pelt Reference section. The on-line OED is
accessible through the link below (or through either the library's menu or
the English Web Page).
This exercise will introduce you to searching for words on the OED,
and give you some sense of the richness of any given word. Your exercise
will be evaluated for your grade, on the basis of its thoroughness and
- Each person will be assigned a word from one of the texts we have
read so far [sonnets, Duchess of Malfi].
- Dial-in to the OED. [Connect to online OED.]
- Select "single-term searching."
- Choose "search" and enter.
- Read about your word: its etymology, its range of meanings at any
given time, and its changes over time (note the dates next to each
- Note that you can search for your word in any quotation throughout
the whole OED: back at the search menu, you can choose settings, and
"search field," and choose "quotation text," which will look for all
occurrences of your word in all the quotations in the OED; or "quotation
date," where you can limit your search to a century. See Help for Help (I
always do.) Or ask the folks at the Reference desk.
- Now write up your observations about the meanings of the word in the
time it was used in your text; and discuss how this affects your reading
of the line or passage in which the word occurs.