Date of Award


Document Type




First Advisor

Barbara Craig

Second Advisor

David Carrell


Before the printing press was invented, there was no recognized Standard English. There was no need for an English standard because most important public writing was in either French or Latin. "English was used primarily for oral and informal purposes and varied quite a bit from place to place" (Barry 2002). Mechanized printing, introduced into England in the late fifteenth century, made standardization a necessity. Later, in the eighteenth century, a small group of influential people decided that there needed to be a fixed standard for the English language. The group was appalled at the chaos in English and believed that language ought to be unvarying and permanent. Unfortunately, the group took on an impossible task. The English language is constantly changing in order to adapt to the ever-changing world.

The eighteenth-century grammarians used logic to help them make decisions among competing usages. In other instances, they looked to Classical Latin and Greek as models for proper structure. The grammarians also based their choices on English history. "Since they viewed language change as the equivalent of language decay, they tended to assume that earlier forms and meanings were correct, while the more recent ones were wrong" (Barry 2002).

Over the centuries, speakers of the language have made increasingly more shifts and changes to the English language. Most speakers do not rely heavily on books that were written two hundred years ago to tell them what is correct English today. "The eighteenth-century grammarians argued that English could be perfect and permanent if not for the laziness and carelessness of its users. Modem linguists argue that change is inherent to all languages" (Barry 2002). If English lexicon had not been able to change, there would not be words like hard drive, floppy disk, or any other computer terminology. Semantic Changes

Since the small group of eighteenth-century grammarians attempted to create a permanent standard of English, there have been innumerable alterations. A word's meaning a hundred years ago is not necessarily the same as it is today. Changes take place at many levels, including lexical, semantics, syntactical, morphological, phonemic, et cetera. This study will focus on the different semantic changes the English lexicon has undergone.