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Pride and Prejudice: An OED Assignment
(due for recitation Friday, February 4th)

The Oxford English Dictionary, or OED, is the dictionary of all dictionaries. If Samuel Johnson's milestone 1755 work was the first authoritative dictionary of the English language, then the gargantuan group effort that created the OED in the late nineteenth century is arguably the greatest collective scholarly effort of all time -- the work of three decades and of an entire nation.

The OED is available now on-line through the library portal. It not only provides definitions of words; it also provides you a history of the word's usage through quoted examples. Any dictionary can tell you what a word means now; the OED can tell you what a word like "nice" meant in the 16th, 18th, and 20th centuries. As you can imagine, this makes the OED a useful tool for reading non-contemporary literature. For this assignment, therefore, we'd like you to learn two things: (1) how to use the OED; and (2) how to use the OED to read, reread, and even transform the meaning of passages you thought you understood.

Your mission:
Experiment with the OED on-line and produce a short essay we'll use as the basis for Friday discussion:

  • 1. Look up one of the following words in the OED ( To get to the OED, go to the Library homepage; go to the e-resources search box in the upper-left corner; type in "OED"; enter your pennkey; search away! Note: to look up a word in the OED, type the word in the search space in upper right-hand corner of your screen. If you wish to search for, say, all the quotations in the OED from Pride and Prejudice, or all the quotations from 1813, etc., use the search engine on the lower left):


  • 2. Choose the word above that seems most interesting to you, or test another of your own choosing that seems especially loaded to you in Pride and Prejudice. Consider the various meanings of your word, and make note of the different uses from the examples provided by the OED. Does the word appear to have a complicated history? to have changed meanings? to be changing in the late-18th and early-19th centuries? Bring the most interesting of these with you to class.

  • 3. Now go to the Library database called "Literature On-line." To go there, go to the library homepage and select "E-Resources," then "Databases," then "English," then "Literature Online." Search for Pride and Prejudice and bring up the entire text on your screen. If you have difficulty, there are other electronic versions of the novel: at the University of Virginia Text Archive and at (">Project Gutenberg.

  • 4. Do a search for your word in the electronic text of the novel. There will be a number of instances where the word occurs in the novel; choose the passage or paragraph where your interpretation hinges on how you choose to define your chosen word. Bring the most interesting of these with you to class.

  • 5. In 300-400 words, write an essay in which you take us through what you see as the possible range of interpretations for both the word and the passage, then demonstrate why you have opted for a chosen meaning of your word, and thus the passage.