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Title: Pet-names and the OED
Authors: Parsons, Ben
First Published: 11-Jul-2016
Publisher: Oxford University Press (OUP)
Citation: Notes and Queries, 2016, 63 (3), pp. 370-374
Abstract: IT has often been observed that the names given to pets and other animals show a striking level of fluidity, proving uniquely capable of drifting between the specific and the generic. Over time, when proper nouns are linked by convention to particular types of creature, they often broaden into general labels for that creature, coming to denote genders, breeds, or even entire species of animal. English contains several terms that have expanded in this way during their history: examples include such colloquial designations as ‘moggy’ or ‘dobbin’, compounds such as ‘jenny wren’ or ‘jackass’, and even terms that have managed to displace the original species name altogether, such as ‘robin’, which overtook the earlier ‘redbreast’ during the late sixteenth century. Nevertheless, it can often be difficult to identify the point at which an animal name has undergone this widening. For this reason, there are a number of instances where the OED assigns too late a date for the emergence of these curious terms. Some of these problematic entries are listed below, with a number of witnesses predating the earliest examples currently given in the dictionary. [Opening paragraph]
DOI Link: 10.1093/notesj/gjw131
ISSN: 0029-3970
eISSN: 1471-6941
Version: Post-print
Status: Peer-reviewed
Type: Journal Article
Rights: Copyright © Oxford University Press, 2016. This version of the article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives License ( ), which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
Appears in Collections:Published Articles, Dept. of English

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