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Terrific-looking creatures and terrific, funny guys: On the historical development of English terrific

Paloma Nuñez Pertejo


The term terrific, in line with the development of a number of evaluative adjectives over the course of the history of English, such as awesome, bare, brutal, massive and wicked, has come to express positive meanings where it originally conveyed negative ones. This kind of lexical semantic change, well-documented across languages, has been referred to in the literature as ‘(a)melioration’, ‘elevation’ or ‘improvement of meaning’ (cf. Culpeper 1997, among many others). The current paper employs a corpus methodology to trace the history of terrific, using three synchronic and diachronic corpora representing the two supranational varieties of the language, namely British English and American English. The sense development of the adjective is examined in light of parameters such as syntactic function (attributive vs. predicative use), principal collocations, and dialectal variation (British vs. American usage). 


Terrific; (a)melioration; pejoration; semantic change; polysemy

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Miscelánea: A Journal of English and American Studies

ISSN: 1137-6368