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Jesus College, University of Cambridge

Keywords Project

The Keywords Project is a collaborative research initiative investigating 'key' words prominently used but also contested in social debate in English. Different meanings available for each keyword, which vary both in specific sense and in evaluative implication, can confuse rather than progress discussion in which the word is used. The project aims to contribute to our understanding of the processes involved in  'public conversation' and civil society more widely by publishing short entries on approximately 100 such 'keywords', along with a project archive of longer essays and materials, plus audio and video.

Keyword Search


A word that began with the body— corpus— has become associated with that most faceless of disembodied entities, the multi-national conglomerate. How could such a shift happen? What are its continuing linguistic and social effects?

Keyword Search


Got Faith?
For some, the word faith evokes the fundamentals of an ethical life; for others, it is at best false consciousness, at worst a conspicuous instrument of oppression. See how these meanings and connotations have evolved over time.

Keyword Search


Recent decades have reclaimed queer as a positive term, sometimes extended beyond homosexuality into a calling into question of solid gender roles. But linguistically it was only a merging of two different words that ever allowed queer to function for so long in its gradually displaced derogatory meaning

Keyword Search


When George W. Bush declared his "War on Terror" it was the first time a sovereign state had declared war on an abstract noun. But the history and changing meanings of the word terror, from Robespierre to contemporary jihadis, encapsulate problems associated with the role of violence in modern politics.

Keywords in changing contexts of use

Closer inspection of these and other works in the history of the book shows potentially confusing use of a core vocabulary of keywords that have multiple meanings.