A recent question on EL&U about a current hip-hop expression led my research into a meme that is evolving faster than drosophila. This expression and its variants have gone viral on internet videos, and are morphing quickly. Urban Dictionary lists several dozen closely related variations. Of particular interest is how this meme is attaching itself to other "loaded" expressions to spawn combination phrases. In trying to wrap my brain around the complexity of this cultural phenomenon, I imagined trying to draw a sphere-of-influence graph of this meme. Which leads me to my question. Biology has cladistics. Does etymology have something similar? Is there a standard means of diagramming the evolution of a word or phrase, and, if so, what is it called?
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The evolution of words and their meanings is called semantic change and has implications in different fields of linguistics:
I'm unaware of any "standard means", but I do recall young children being taught to use "semantic mapping". I think there may be an advanced form of this in use by some etymologists.
A cursory search yielded these STEDT etymologies and a book on etymology. I quote a potentially relevant passage from the book, Lexical and Structural Etymology: Beyond Word Histories (emphasis mine):
Perhaps this can lead you in the right direction.
In an unsearchable and potentially ephemeral comment to the original posting, Professor Lawler kindly presented the following answer:
I’ve marked this posting Community Wiki because it is John’s answer not my own, and so I deserve no reputation from it.