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Free «Findings from the OED» Essay Sample

Counterfeit. The modern meaning is a “fraudulent imitation of something else” when read as a noun. As a verb, it means to “imitate fraudulently,” either by pretending to own of feel, or by resembling very closely. As an adjective, it means “made in exact imitation of something.” Its etymology is from Middle English, with origins in the Old French word “contrefait,” which comes from the Latin “contra” (in opposition) plus “facere” (to make). Over time, the meaning has shifted from something made to oppose something else, or the act of making something as a deed of dissidence, to a more fraudulent purpose in modern times.

Dissemble. The modern meaning is to “conceal or disguise one's true feelings or beliefs.” Written transitively, it means to hide; intransitively, it means to hide emotions or beliefs. Its etymology is from late Middle English, through Old French from the Latin “dissimulare,” which means to “disguise” or “conceal.” This meaning has shifted from a general concealment to an emphasis on hiding one's emotions.



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Humor. This word has several different meanings, even in the modern dictionary. It can mean the “quality of being amusing or comic,” but it can also mean “a mood or state of mind.” A more historical meaning is a “chief fluid of the body.” These were blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile, and they were “thought to determine a person's physical and mental qualities by the relative proportions in which they were present.” As a verb, it has another distinct meaning: to “comply with the wishes of (someone) in order to keep them content, however unreasonable such wishes might be.” Of the noun meanings, this seems closest to the one referring to mood, as the verb will help stabilize the mood. The etymology comes from Middle English, through Old French from the Latin “humor” – which means “moisture.” The same root produced the English word “humid.” The original meaning of the word had to do with the bodily fluids – in the sixteenth century, this progressed from the body's fluids to the moods.

Moderation. The modern meaning of this word has to do with avoiding “excess or extremes, especially in one's behavior or political opinions.” A British sense has to do with an analysis of examination papers or political candidates. The etymology comes from late Middle English, through Old French from the Latin “moderatio” which comes from “moderare,” or “to control.” The idea has moved from a general sense of control to a discipline over areas of behavior or expression.

Wonder. This word has developed quite a diverse set of meanings. As a noun, it can mean a sense of “amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.” It can also be a remarkable person or object – or something worthy of sarcastic scorn. It can even be an event that causes surprise. As a verb, it can refer to curiosity or doubt – or amazement as well. The etymology is from Old English and has a vaguely Germanic origin, as it is related to the Dutch “wonder” and the German “Wunder” – however, the ultimate source of this word is not known. The idea, though, in all three languages has the common area of amazement and admiration.

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Findings from Other Sources.

These words did not elicit any materially different meanings in reference books on psychology or religion. The first two words, “counterfeit” and “dissemble,” refer to different types of fraud or deception, and so I first searched for them separately and in pairs. With the word “counterfeit,” the primary search engine results had to do with fake money or luxury goods that were passed off as the real thing. One article fairly close to the top of the first page had to do with an investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; however, the very next result had to do with a game called “Counterfeit” that asked players to find the real painting, given two choices. For “dissemble,” the rarity of its use was demonstrated by the fact that the first three pages of results were entirely populated by dictionary definitions of the word. It did not appear in any articles or web pages that appeared in those results. When I entered both words into the search field simultaneously, the first two pages of results were solely populated by synonym websites, with pages for the synonym entries for either of the two words.

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In Google Scholar, the findings were similar. The word “counterfeit” elicited patents for detecting counterfeit documents or money, articles about counterfeit drugs and their effect on the pharmaceutical industry, and articles about how consumers are interested in buying counterfeit goods. The top result on the first page, interestingly, was entitled “Amazonia: Man and Culture in a Counterfeit Paradise.” The idea that people want to buy counterfeit purses, watches and other finery in order to simulate having wealth is interesting – the idea that man is pursuing a counterfeit paradise instead of a true heaven is just as interesting. The idea of counterfeiting as not only the deception of others but, ultimately, the deception of self shows the deep roots that the impulse has sunk within the human psyche. There are many people for whom counterfeiting is, at least on the conscious level, unacceptable. However, for many others, perhaps even those who consciously eschew counterfeiting, it may be more acceptable than we would think, as seeming to possess wealth, or even virtue or happiness, might be just as important to people as actually possessing those things. After all, we spend a lot of time purchasing and acquiring objects to give us a certain sense of status, whether we deserve that status or not – or whether we can afford it or not, as the consumer debt epidemic indicates. The idea of “counterfeiting” has many curious associations for the human soul.

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For “dissemble,” in Google Scholar the results had to do with a computer function that has nothing to do with the OED meaning of the word. They also included the ways that people tend to lie to cover up their emotions, and the way that people in correctional facilities will tell lies in order to earn earlier parole or higher levels of treatment. One of the results was called the “need to dissemble.” This particular article had to do with literary theory, and the way that we have a basic need to hide our true emotions at least some of the time. This need may be closely intertwined with the need to counterfeit, with the need to erect a false front from time to time. The reason behind those needs is something that would be well worth the study of psychoanalysts and social scientists, as the results of counterfeiting and dissembling are rarely positive for anyone. Entering both terms into Google Scholar simultaneously yielded a set of results that split between articles about psychology and self-actualization studies, as well as ways that we deceive ourselves, not just as individuals but as an entire society.

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With “humor,” the first few pages of search results all had to do with the amusing, or ways to be funny, or collections of jokes. However, Google Scholar was much more diverse; some of the articles had to do with the ways we use humor to cope with stress and other harmful influences. There were a couple of articles about aqueous humor, a fluid that appears in the eyes, and even some articles about the medieval concept of the four humors, as was described earlier. The interactions between humor (the amusement kind) and health also appeared several times in the search results, as the connection between humor and improved physical health is clearly of interest to researchers.

With “moderation,” the primary search engine results had to do with self-discipline (particularly quotes about moderation), as well as moderating, or hosting, forums online. On Google Scholar, the results had primarily to do either with control of behavior, or the ways that chemicals moderate particular genes in the body.

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With “wonder,” the first page of search results yielded three music videos to different songs entitled “Wonder.” The official site for the singer Stevie Wonder appeared, as did the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. The Centers for Disease Control have put up a website called “Wonder” to help the public learn about health information – that also appeared on the first page. In Google Scholar, the results were also all over the place, moving from the human impulse to wonder to countries and people who were “wonders” in their own right.


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