NEWS

Mount talk discusses surprising dictionary history of common words

November 04, 2019
NEWBURGH, N.Y. -

Peter Witkowsky, associate professor of English at Mount Saint Mary College.

Peter Witkowsky, associate professor of English at Mount Saint Mary College, examined the history of definitions associated with some common words on Thursday, October 31.

The talk was part the college’s Investigating Research on Campus (iROC) program, which aims to provide a forum for Mount faculty, staff, and students to showcase their research endeavors with both the Mount Saint Mary College and the local communities.

Few consider that dictionaries are fluid documents, constantly being updated and proofread by a variety of people, Witkowsky explained. But, he reminded the audience, that’s exactly what they are.

To illustrate this point, Witkowsky examined the definitions of some common words, from the mundane to those describing human sexuality. He noted that these definitions changed over the course of hundreds of years, reflecting society’s level of acceptance, the opinions of those who wrote the definition, and the time period in which it was written.