feedback sought on paper 3

In this assignment for British Literature, 1660-1740, students flex their close-reading muscles with some help from the Oxford English Dictionary.

As with the précis & analysis of scholarly article assignment, students will be responsible for a class presentation using what they’ve learned from the OED. Each student will

  1. research the word and its variants,
  2. read over the text in question with their research in mind,
  3. meet with me to discuss their insights,
  4. present their insights to the class,
  5. and turn in a paper one week after their presentation.

After reading all of what I’ve included below, what are your thoughts?


Literary analysis using Oxford English Dictionary
Due Date: Variable
Length: 750-1000 words
Value: 20% of final grade
Description: Choose one word from one or more of the texts that we have read. Make sure it is a word that is both interesting in its varied shades of meaning and important to what we are reading. Look up the word in the Oxford English Dictionary online, available through the university library website. In your paper, analyze part of the text or texts you’re addressing and answer these questions: What different meanings did the word have in the eighteenth century? How are those meanings different than what the word meant before or after the eighteenth century? Why is the word important to the text or texts you’re analyzing? How does our interpretation of the text or texts change when we apply the different meanings of the word as described in the OED?


Lest this appear to be an easy assignment, let me provide an example of how a student might approach Alexander Pope’s Dunciad, in which the goddess Dulness presides over the collapse of high literary culture brought on by incompetent poets, hackneyed literary criticism, and commercial pandering.

Here’s one simple question: What exactly do we do with the use of the words “dulness” and “dull,” anyway?

Follow this link to an excerpt from the poem and do a page search on ” dul” (don’t forget the space before “d”) to see how many times the word appears. Does Pope use it in the same sense each time?

Keep reading to learn what the OED tells us about this word.

Below are the entries from the OED for “dullness” (a noun), “dull” (as adjective), and “dull” (as verb, both transitive and intransitive). Students will need to know (if they do not already) how to read an OED entry, including what meanings would have been current in the era when the poem was written and read. We’ll go over this in class. (Short version: each definition is followed by dated examples of the word’s use.)


dullness, dulness, n : The state or quality of being dull.

1. Slowness or obtuseness of intellect; stupidity.

1398 TREVISA Barth. De P.R. V. xii. (1495) 118 It is a token of dulnesse and of slowe wytte. 1483 Cath. Angl. 111/1 A Dullnes, ebitudo. 1561 T. NORTON Calvin’s Inst. I. 25 Possessed with dullnesse, yea ouerwhelmed with grosse ignorance. 1651 HOBBES Leviath. I. viii. 32 A slow Imagination, maketh that Defect..which is commonly called Dulnesse. 1728 POPE Dunc. I. 11 Dulness o’er all possess’d her ancient right, Daughter of Chaos and eternal Night. 1881 JOWETT Thucyd. I. 190 Dulness and modesty are a more useful combination than cleverness and licence.

2. Sluggishness, inertness, inactivity; drowsiness.

1526 Pilgr. Perf. (W. de W. 1531) 128b, Theyr ende is drynesse of deuocyon, dulnesse of spiryte. 1610 SHAKES. Temp. I. ii. 185 Thou art inclinde to sleepe: ’tis a good dulnesse, And giue it way. 1665 GLANVILL Scepsis Sci. 75 Such a Dulness and inactivity of humor. 1852 GROTE Greece II. lxxii. IX. 309 From the general dullness of character pervading Spartan citizens.

3. Gloominess of mind or spirits: now esp. as arising from want of interest.

c1369 CHAUCER Dethe Blaunche 879 Dulnesse was of hir a-drad. c1400 Destr. Troy 9854 Lette no dolnes you drepe, ne your dede let. 1500-20 DUNBAR Poems lxxviii. 10 My heid..Dullit in dulness and distress. c1600 SHAKES. Sonn. lvi, Do not kill The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness. 1654 WHITLOCK Zootomia 32 Mirth endeth in Dulnesse, if not Sadnesse.

4. Irksomeness; uninteresting character or quality.

1751 JOHNSON Rambler No. 141 {page}5 A man of parts, who wanted nothing but the dulness of a scholar. 1781 COWPER Conversat. 609 Grave without dulness. 1871 L. STEPHEN Playgr. Eur. x. (1894) 231 The deadly dulness of the grounds that surround a first-class family mansion.

5. Want of sensibility or acuteness (of the senses); want of sharpness, clearness, brightness, distinctness, or intensity (of physical qualities); bluntness, dimness, etc.: see DULL a. 2, 6, 7.

c1440 Promp. Parv. 135/1 Dulnesse of egge, obtusitas. 1567 J. MAPLET Gr. Forest 3b, Through ye dulnesse of his owne colour. 1833 J. RENNIE Alph. Angling 50 Sport..depending..on the brightness or dulness of the water.


dull, a

1. Not quick in intelligence or mental perception; slow of understanding; not sharp of wit; obtuse, stupid, inapprehensive. In early use, sometimes: Wanting wit, fatuous, foolish.

[c940 Seafarer 106 Dol bi{th} se {edh}e him his Dryhten ne ondræde{th}. c975 Rushw. Gosp. Matt. v. 22 Se{edh}e {th}anne cwæ{th}e dysi{asg} vel dole [Vulg. fatue; Ags. G. {th}u stunta] he bi{th} scyldi{asg} helle fyres.] a1000 Riddles xii. 3 Ic..dole hwette. a1250 Leg. Kath. 1268 Wacre {th}en eni wake! of dea{edh} & of dul [earlier MSS. dult] wit! c1340 HAMPOLE Prose Tr. (1866) 40 If thi herte be dulle and myrke and felis no{th}er witt ne sauour ne deuocyone for to thynke. 1362 LANGL. P. Pl. A. I. 129 ‘{Th}ou dotest daffe’ qua{th} heo ‘Dulle are {th}i wittes’. 1398 TREVISA Barth. De P.R. XVIII. i. (1495) 735 The oxe is slowe and stable and the asse dull of wytte. 1413 Pilgr. Sowle (Caxton 1483) IV. xxiv. 70 She fond the soo dulle and soo lothe to hir wordes. 1494 FABYAN Chron. 2 To my dull wytte it is nat atteynaunt. 1576 FLEMING Panopl. Epist. 269 The blunt and dull capacities of them that give judgement. 1651 HOBBES Leviath. II. xxv. 135 Feare of appearing duller in apprehension. 1690 LOCKE Hum. Und. II. i. (1695) 44, I confess myself to have one of those dull Souls, that doth not perceive it self always to contemplate Ideas. 1751 JORTIN Serm. (1771) VI. ii. 32 The Israelites were a dull and a carnal people. 1833 H. MARTINEAU Briery Creek i. 8 He was rather a dull child{em}usually called uncommonly stupid.

2. a. Wanting sensibility or keenness of perception in the bodily senses and feelings; insensible, obtuse, senseless, inanimate. In dialect use, esp. Hard of hearing, deaf.

c1340 Cursor M. 3564 (Trin.) His body waxe{th} drye & dulle [Gött. dall; not in Cott. or Fairf.]. 1500-20 DUNBAR Poems xv. 9 And he that dronis ay as ane bee Sowld haif ane heirar dull as stane. 1526-34 TINDALE Matt. xiii. 15 Their eares were dull of herynge. 1590 SPENSER F.Q. I. x. 18 She..opened his dull eyes, that light mote in them shine. 1613 SHAKES. Hen. VIII, III. ii. 434 And when I am forgotten..And sleepe in dull cold Marble. a1791 GROSE Olio (1796) 115 By dull I only mean hard of hearing. 1830 TENNYSON Poet’s Mind 35 You never would hear it; your ears are so dull. 1878 J. P. HOPPS Jesus iv. 18 The light came again into the poor dull eyes.

b. Of pain or other sensation: Not keen or intense; slightly or indistinctly felt.

1725 N. ROBINSON Th. Physick 165 A heavy, dull Pain generally affects the Patient, either on the Right or Left Side. Mod. A sharp pain, followed by a dull ache.

3. a. Slow in motion or action; not brisk; inert, sluggish, inactive; heavy, drowsy.

1393 GOWER Conf. III. 6 My limmes ben so dull, I may unethes gon the pas. 1530 PALSGR. 311/1 Dull at the spurre as a horse is, restif. 1590 SPENSER F.Q. I. vii. 5 Thenceforth her waters wexed dull and slow. 1625 J. GLANVILL Voy. Cadiz (1883) 56, I gott a dull and ill paced horse. 1699 W. DAMPIER Voy. II. II. 20 Our Ketch, even when light, was but a dull Sailer. 1788 FRANKLIN Autobiog. Wks. 1840 I. 222 When we came to sea she proved the dullest of ninety-six sail. 1849 E. E. NAPIER Excurs. S. Africa II. 9 The long whips could not urge the dull, lean teams into a quicker pace. 1869 HAZLITT Eng. Prov. 49 All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

b. Of trade: Sluggish, stagnant; the opposite of brisk. Hence transf. of goods or merchandise: Not much in demand, not easily saleable.

1705 W. BOSMAN Guinea 73 Trade being extremely dull at that time. 1729 FRANKLIN Ess. Wks. 1840 II. 275 If raising wheat proves dull, more may proceed to the raising and manufacturing of hemp, silk, iron. 1797 T. JEFFERSON Writ. (1859) IV. 182 Flour is dull at $7·50. 1863 FAWCETT Pol. Econ. I. iv. 43 Dull trade is always prejudicial to them. 1892 E. REEVES Homewd. Bound 205 This being the dull season, we arranged terms at about half price. 1895 Times 17 Jan. 4/1 In the Market..Consols opened dull at 104.

4. Of persons, or their mood: Having the natural vivacity or cheerfulness blunted; having the spirits somewhat depressed; listless; in a state approaching gloom, melancholy, or sadness: the opposite of lively or cheerful.

c1393 CHAUCER Scogan 45 Scogan {th}at knelist at {th}e wellis hed Of grace of alle honour and wor{th}ynesse In {th}e ende of wich strem I am dul as ded. c1475 Lerne or be Lewde in Babees Bk. (1868) 9 To Dulle, ne to Dredefulle, ne Drynke nat to offte. 1590 SHAKES. Com. Err. V. i. 79 Sweet recreation barr’d, what doth ensue But moodie and dull melancholly? 1709 STEELE Tatler No. 45 {page}7 You are dull to Night; prithee be merry. 1840 DICKENS Barn. Rudge vii, When other people were merry, Mrs. Varden was dull. 1877 SPURGEON Serm. XXIII. 103 They say they are ‘dull’ if they have to be quiet for a while.

5. Causing depression or ennui; tedious, uninteresting, uneventful; the reverse of exhilarating or enlivening.

1590 SHAKES. Com. Err. II. i. 91 Are my discourses dull? Barren my wit? 1693 Hum. & Conv. Town 63 Some admirable Passage in the last dull Prologue. 1716 LADY M. W. MONTAGU Let. to Mrs. Thistlethwayte 26 Sept., I have already said too much on so dull a subject. 1798 DUKE OF CLARENCE 1 June in Nicolas Nelson’s Disp. III. 10 note, I trust the Campaign..will be less dull than you imagine. 1838 LYTTON Alice 23 Good curates generally are dull. 1892 Bookseller 18/2 There is no fear of Sunday being a dull day for the little ones.

6. Not sharp or keen; blunt (in lit. sense).

[c1400 Destr. Troy 10548 Parys cast at the kyng..{th}re darttes noght dole.] c1440 Promp. Parv. 135/1 Dulle of egge, obtusus. 1594 SHAKES. Rich. III, IV. iv. 226 No doubt the murd’rous knife was dull and blunt, Till it was whetted on thy stone-hard heart. 1633 G. HERBERT Temple, Time i, Meeting with Time, Slack thing, said I, Thy sithe is dull; whet it for shame. 1719 DE FOE Crusoe I. v, I had three large axes..but with much chopping and cutting..they were all full of notches, and dull. 1835 WHITTIER Mogg Megone II. iv, Time..Wielding the dull axe of Decay.

7. a. Of or in reference to physical qualities, as colour or luminosity, sound, taste: Not clear, bright, vivid, or intense; obscure, dim; indistinct, muffled; flat, insipid. b. Of the weather: Not clear or bright; cheerless, gloomy, overcast. (Here there is app. some mixture of sense 5.)

c1430 LYDG. Min. Poems 151 (Mätz.) Al is dul shadwe, whan Phebus is doun goon. 1552 HULOET, Dulle or sadde coloure, rauus [printed raucus] color. 1599 SHAKES. Hen. V, III. v. 16 Is not their Clymate foggy, raw, and dull? 1611 {emem} Cymb. II. iv. 41 Sparkles this Stone as it was wont, or is’t not Too dull for your good wearing? 1694 Acc. Sev. Late Voy. II. (1711) 4 On the 19th we had a dull Sun-shine. 1699 W. DAMPIER Voy. II. II. 66 Of a dull grey. 1816 J. SMITH Panorama Sc. & Art II. 826 The alloys of platina with silver give only a dull metal. 1836 DUBOURG Violin i. (1878) 11 In character of sound, the viol instruments were decidedly sweet, but comparatively dull. 1860 TYNDALL Glac. I. xxvii. 195 The dawn was dull, but the sky cleared as the day advanced.

8. Comb., as dull-disposed, -looking, -making, -smelling adjs.; parasynthetic, as dull-brained, -browed, -coloured, {dag}-conceited, -edged, -eyed, -featured, -hearted, -scented, -sighted, -spirited, -surfaced, -voiced adjs.; also dull emitter, a thermionic valve in which the filament operates at a relatively low temperature, and so does not glow brightly; also, such a filament; also attrib.; hence dull-emitting adj.; {dag}dull-house [transl. Du. dolhuis, in Kilian dulhuys], a mad-house. See also DULL-HEAD, -HEADED, etc.

1594 SHAKES. Rich. III, IV. iv. 332 *Dull-brain’d Buckingham. 1644 QUARLES Barnabas & B., Sensual Man (T.), A pitch beyond the reach of *dull-browed sorrow. a1592 H. SMITH Wks. (1867) II. 369 They cannot be so sottish or *dull conceited. 1599 B. JONSON Cynthia’s Rev. IV. i, The most melancholick and *dull-disposed creature upon earth. a1631 DRAYTON Wks. III. 1176 (Jod.) *Dull-edg’d tools. 1922 Wireless World 30 Sept. 858/2 The set has been designed that either R or ‘*Dull Emitter’ valves can be fitted, the latter permitting of the operation of the set from dry cells. 1923 Ibid. 5 May 137/2 The dull-emitting filaments of the valves are made from thoriated tungsten and..if thoriated tungsten had not proved useful in electric lamp manufacture, there would not exist to-day the ‘dull-emitter’ valve. 1923 Exper. Wireless Nov. 97/2 The object of the dull emitter is to obtain the same filament emission with only a fraction of the energy previously required to render the ordinary filament sufficiently incandescent. 1970 D. F. SHAW Introd. Electronics (ed. 2) x. 209 Oxide-coated cathodes..glow a dull red and they are therefore called dull emitters, contrasted with tungsten filaments which are bright emitters. 1596 SHAKES. Merch. V. III. iii. 14 Ile not be made a soft and *dull ey’d foole. 1870 MORRIS Earthly Par. II. III. 121 This helped him through his dull-eyed woe. 1622 T. SCOTT Belg. Pismire 79 Their Bedlams and *Dul-houses for distracted people. 1581 SIDNEY Apol. Poetrie (Arb.) 72 If..you be borne so neere the *dull making Cataphract of Nilus, that you cannot heare the Plannet-like Musick of Poetrie. 1552 HULOET, *Dulle sighted or poreblinde, rauos oculos habens. 1686 Lond. Gaz. No. 2188/4 A light Gray Gelding..dull Sighted, especially in the right Eye. 1616-61 B. HOLYDAY Persius (1673) 335 Whether he buy *dull-smelling cinnamun. 1597 HOOKER Eccl. Pol. V. xxx. §4 To play vpon *dull-spirited men.


dull, v

I. trans. To make dull, in various senses.

1. To render sluggish or inert; to deprive of quickness, sharpness, or activity; to stupefy (a person, or the mind, understanding, wits, etc.).

c1392 CHAUCER Compl. Venus 76 Ffor eelde {th}at in my spiryt doulle{th}e me. c1440 Promp. Parv. 135/1 Dullyn, or make dulle in wytte, hebeto. 1571 GOLDING Calvin on Ps. xxxix. 8 They wilfully dull themselves, that they may sleepe soundly in their owne vanitie. 1604 SHAKES. Oth. II. iii. 394 Dull not Deuice, by coldnesse, and delay. 1625 BACON Ess., Usury (Arb.) 543 Vsury..doth Dull and Dampe all Industries..wherin Money would be Stirring, if it were not for this Slugge. 1678 R. BARCLAY Apol. Quakers v. §21. 165 Man is dull’d by an evil habit. 1877 E. R. CONDER Bas. Faith ii. 89 Without dulling their responsiveness to each new impression.

{dag}b. To pass away in sloth or inactivity. Obs.

1682 SIR T. BROWNE Chr. Mor. I. §33 Dull not away thy days in slothful supinity.

{dag}2. To render dull of mood; to make listless, or somewhat gloomy: the opposite of to enliven. Obs.

c1386 CHAUCER Can. Yeom. Prol. & T. 540 Of his falshede it dulleth me to ryme. c1400 Destr. Troy 11314 Youre dedis me dullis, & dos out of hope. 1576 FLEMING Panopl. Epist. 64 My desire is not to dull you, if I can not delight you. c1600 SHAKES. Sonn. cii, I would not dull you with my song. a1611 BEAUM. & FL. Philaster III. i, The nobles and the people are all dulled With this usurping king.

3. To render less sensitive; to take away the keenness of, blunt (the bodily senses or organs).

1552 HULOET, Dulle or darken with ouer muche lyght, perstringo. 1578 LYTE Dodoens IV. xxx. 488 If one eate to muche thereof, it dulleth the sight. 1633 BP. HALL Hard Texts 292 Their ears shall be dulled and deafened. 1812 J. WILSON Isle of Palms II. 161 Each sense is dull’d! a1822 SHELLEY M.N. Post. Fr. 16 For passion’s voice had dull’d their listless ear.

b. To render (feeling) less keen or intense.

1651 HOBBES Govt. & Soc. i. §2. 4 That the Appetite, of present matters, be dul’d with the memory of things past. 1832 TENNYSON To J. S. 40 Weep, weeping dulls the inward pain.

4. To take off the sharpness of, to blunt (an edge or point, or something edged or pointed). Often fig. in phr. to dull the edge of = 3b.

c1400 Destr. Troy 5131 {Th}en Vlixes..The derfe wordis of Diamede dullit with speche. c1440 Promp. Parv. 135/1 Dullyn, or make dulle in egge toole, obtundo. 1591 SYLVESTER Du Bartas I. i. 128 My Reason’s edge is dull’d in this Dispute. 1607 TOPSELL Four-f. Beasts (1658) 359 Leopards..and Lions, do hide their clawes within their skin when they go or run, that so they might not be dulled. a1716 SOUTH Serm. IV. ii. (R.), How quickly the edge of their valour was dulled. 1821 B. CORNWALL Mirandola II. ii, Your sword is dulled With carnage, I am told.

5. To take away the brightness, clearness, vividness, or intensity of; to make dim or indistinct; to tarnish. Also fig.

c1386 CHAUCER Pars. T. {page}159 {Th}e goode werkes {th}at he dede..ben amortised and astoneyed and dullid by ofte synnynge. c1425 WYNTOUN Cron. II. x. 24 Swa suld I dulle hale yhoure Delyte. 1596 SPENSER F.Q. VI. iii. 13 In which they [the sun’s beams] steeped lay All night in darkenesse, duld with yron rust. 1630 DAVENANT Cruel Bro. III. Dram. Wks. 1872 I. 157 Foreste is the man That dulls your reputation with the Duke. 1870 MORRIS Earthly Par. III. IV. 185 The swift footfalls Were dulled upon the marble floor By silken webs from some far shore. 1872 BLACK Adv. Phaeton xvii. 237 A sort of mist..dulling the rich colours of the glen. 1892 WESTCOTT Gospel of Life 220 The image of God in man if dulled has not been destroyed.

II. intr. To become dull, in various senses.

6. To become stupid, inert, blunt, dim, etc.; to lose force, intensity, keenness, or clearness.

c1374 CHAUCER Boeth. I. metr. ii. 3 (Camb. MS.) Allas how the thowt of man dreynt in ouerthrowynge depnesse dulle{th} and forleti{th} his propre cleernesse. c1450 Cov. Myst. (Shaks. Soc.) 343 Myn heed dullyth, Myn herte ffullyth Of sslepp. 1509 FISHER Fun. Serm. C’tess Richmond Wks. (1876) 305 Her herynge sholde haue dulled. 1591 SYLVESTER Du Bartas I. vi. 230 A pregnant Wit; Which rusts and duls, except it subject finde Worthy it’s worth, whereon itself to grinde. 1633 T. JAMES Voy. 22 The winde duld something. 1862 G. P. SCROPE Volcanos 35 The lava was visible at a white heat, gradually dulling to a faint red. 1871 BLACK Dau. Heth III. ii. 24 The day had dulled somewhat.

{dag}b. To be inactive or sluggish; to drowse. Obs.

1430 LYDG. Chron. Troy II. xx, My counsayle is our ankers up to pulle In this matter no longer that we dulle. c1440 Jacob’s Well (E.E.T.S.) 281 {Th}at {th}ou schalt no{ygh}t dullyn and slawthyn in {th}i labour of {th}i prayers.

{dag}7. To become dull, listless, or somewhat gloomy; to grow weary, tire (of something). Obs.

[c1220 Bestiary 383 in O. Eng. Misc. 12 {Edh}us is ure louerdes la{ygh}e, luuelike to fillen, her-of haue we mikel ned, {edh}at we {edh}ar-wi{edh} ne dillen.] c1374 CHAUCER Troylus IV. 1461 (1489) That ye shul dullen of {th}e rudenesse Of vs sely Troians. c1440 Gesta Rom. xx. 68 (Harl. MS.) He dradde moche of the forseid word, and gretly dullid therwith.

{dag}8. To be tedious; to urge tediously. Obs.

1540 R. HYRDE tr. Vives’ Instr. Chr. Wom. (1592) Pvij, Many women..with their ungodly crying and unreasonable calling, craving, and dulling upon them, driveth them to seeke unlawfull meanes of living.

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4 thoughts on “feedback sought on paper 3

  1. Oh, wow. I love dictionaries, etymology and usage. This one sounds like fun. :-)

    However, (and this is coming from someone with zero teaching experience, but relatively recent undergrad experience) the first assignment seems more involved and more aligned with the broader insight and skill set that you want students to take from the course (I’m making some assumptions here). It seems to me like this project should be worth less of the final grade than the first project.

  2. That’s a good point about the weight of the assignment, Denise. I’ve changed it so that the two count for the same amount. I don’t think this one needs to be worth less. Students should really be thorough in their approach to this assignment.

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