Based on an investigation of the Old Bailey Corpus, this article explores the development and usage patterns of maximizers in Late Modern English (LModE). The maximizers to be considered for inclusion in the study are based on the lists provided in Quirk et al. (1985) and Huddleston & Pullum (2002). The aims of the study were to (i) document the frequency development of maximizers, (ii) investigate the sociolinguistic embedding of maximizers usage (gender, class) and (iii) analyze the sociopragmatics of maximizers based on the speakers’ roles, such as judge or witness, in the courtroom.
Of the eleven maximizer types focused on in the investigation, perfectly and entirely were found to dominate in frequency. The whole group was found to rise over the period 1720 to 1913. In terms of gender, social class and speaker roles, there was variation in the use of maximizers across the different speaker groups. Prominently, defendants, but also judges and lawyers, maximized more than witnesses and victims; further, male speakers and higher-ranking speakers used more maximizers. The results were interpreted taking into account the courtroom context and its dialogue dynamics.