Identify an instance in a document, broadcast, or conversation in which the meaning an author assigns to a word is debatable. You are not looking for an instance in which someone uses a term incorrectly, such as using the word “antidote” to refer to a short story. Rather, you are looking for an instance in which a person applies a word to an object or situation and you disagree with the person’s evaluation of that object or situation.
When you have your example, then answer for yourself the following question: Why is it important to dispute the meaning of that word? Your answer to that question will eventually become the thesis of your paper.
Begin your essay by summarizing your example, presenting your thesis, and previewing your definition of the disputed word. Following your introduction, present your research on your word that supports the usage for which you advocate.
There are a number of ways to establish a precedent for a preferred meaning of a term, including reference to a dictionary, though that reference should not be limited to Merriam Webster’s.
You can trace the etymology of your word in the Oxford English Dictionary, which is available electronically via the university library: http://catalog.sjlibrary.org/record=b1879016~S1Links to an external site.
Other dictionaries you can search include:
legal: http://www.legal-dictionary.org/Links to an external site.
medical: http://www.online-medical-dictionary.org/Links to an external site.
philosophical: http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/index.htmLinks to an external site.
slang: http://www.urbandictionary.com/Links to an external site.
Another way to establish the meaning of a term is to show how others use it, even if that usage is common only to a certain group of people. To do this, you will need to compile examples of others using your word in the manner for which you advocate. This research might include reference to the term’s equivalent in other languages.
A third strategy for establishing the meaning of a term is to define related terms. For instance, if you are establishing the meaning of maturity, you may also want to define experienced, responsible, and established.
After establishing a precedent for your preferred meaning, explain the difference it will make to use that meaning over another. In this section of the paper, you will want to provide specific examples of how the word’s meaning can or will influence decision-making and social action.
Conclude your paper with a brief summary of your argument and re-statement of your thesis.
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