Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World


Shakespeare and sex

Shakespeare made many gifts to the English language, but his most memorable gift in the particularly rich and rarefied area of euphemisms for sexual intercourse comes in the opening scene of Othello, when Iago strives to provoke Desdemona’s father Brabantio to outrage with the news that ‘your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.’

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Fences and paradox

Imagine that you are an extremely talented, and extremely ambitious, shepherd, and an equally talented and equally ambitious carpenter. You decide that you want to explore what enclosures, or fences, you can build, and which groups of objects, or flocks, you can shepherd around so that they are collected together inside one of these fences.

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The many deaths of David Bowie

On 8 January 2016, on his 69th birthday and two days before he died, David Bowie released Blackstar, an album replete with images of death, but also hints of the possibility of transcendence of it. “Lazarus,” the third track sung from heaven where he was as free as a bluebird, appeared to announce his rebirth into yet another of the series of personae he inhabited throughout his career.

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The shame of marriage in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

When the Supreme Court concluded the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges hearings with a 5–4 vote to legalize same–sex marriage, the majority and dissent disagreed as on the place of marriage in constitutional law, a question related to divergent views of the institution’s historical purpose. The majority insisted that marriage has always been about love and companionship, the dissent that it has always been procreation.

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Divine Command Theory and moral obligation

‘Divine Command Theory’ is the theory that what makes something morally right is that God commands it, and what makes something morally wrong is that God forbids it. Of the many objections to this theory, the four main ones are that it makes morality arbitrary, that it cannot work in a pluralistic society, that it makes morality infantile, and that it is viciously circular.

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Diplomatic History

Queering America and the world

“We had him down as a rent boy,” remarked a bartender in Brussels about Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspected jihadists in the recent Paris attacks. Several reports noted that Abdeslam frequented gay bars and flirted with other men. These revelations were difficult to slot into existing media narratives and stood in uneasy relation to his posited allegiance with the group best known in the United States as ISIS. After all, there have been numerous credible reports of ISIS’s violent condemnation and abuse of queer people. In many instances, the penalty for homosexuality has been death.

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Why ‘ageism’ is bad for your health

According to research conducted by Levy, Slade, Kunkel, and Kasl in 2002, the average lifespan of those with high levels of negative beliefs about old age is 7.5 years shorter than those with more positive beliefs. In other words, ‘ageism’ may have a cumulative harmful effect on personal health. But what is ageism – and what is its impact, both for society and healthcare?

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The importance of long-term marriage for health and happiness

Each year around Valentine’s Day, a new crop of romantic comedies hit the silver screen. Viewers wait in anticipation for the on-screen couple’s first kiss, or the enviably lavish wedding. But what happens to that couple, many decades after the first kiss or exchange of rings? Recent research shows that long-married couples exchange love and emotional support, but also regularly engage in spats or minor conflicts which affect older adults’ health in both expected and surprising ways.

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The romance of chocolate

Is chocolate an aphrodisiac? Gifts of chocolate are given usually with that intent at this time of the year. Does it work? Well, maybe; gastronomy is known as the sister art of love. Women often crave chocolate. In 1648, according to the diary of English Jesuit Thomas Gage, the women of Chiapas Real arranged for the murder of a certain bishop who forbade them to drink chocolate during mass.

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Beyond the noise barrier

Noise barriers are not regarded with a great deal of affection. In fact, they’re not much regarded at all; perhaps not surprising, given that the goal of their installers is to ensure that those who benefit notice neither the barrier nor the noise sources it hides. The majority are basic workmanlike structures, built according to tried and trusted principles.

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African American Studies Center

Celebrating African American inventors

It’s been over 195 years since Thomas Jennings received a patent for a dry cleaning process, and black inventors have continued to change, innovate and enhance day-to-day life. This Black History Month, the team behind the Oxford African American Studies Center is excited to explore some of the many inventions, dreamed up, brought to life, and patented by black inventors.

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Whose chat-up line is it anyway?

Along with death and trees, love is probably the most commonly explored theme in literature. So many of our favorite maxims and aphorisms about love are drawn from classical fiction. But how well do we really know these quotes or the novels and poems from which they derive?

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The evolution of humans [infographic]

Where did we come from? How did we become human? What’s the origin of our species? It is hard to imagine our understanding of humanity without, of course, Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Our own family tree testifies to this age-old pattern of extinction, adaption, and evolution.

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Ten facts about the cornet

Sometimes mistaken for the trumpet, a near relation, the cornet has had a fascinating and diverse history. Popular from military and jazz bands to the 19th century European stage, the cornet has had a home in the American music scene for generations of musicians and music styles.

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Illusions for survival and reproduction

Much of what we think we see is not real – it’s an illusion. A favourite pastime for many visual psychologists and artists is to baffle and confuse our perception by making things appear that are not really there, or manipulating the way that we might see patterns or colours. The origin of many illusions lies in the fact that the brain often receives incomplete or conflicting information.

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Between language and folklore: “To hang out the broom”

We know even less about the origin of idioms than about the origin of individual words. This is natural: words have tangible components: roots, suffixes, consonants, vowels, and so forth, while idioms spring from customs, rites, and general experience. Yet both are apt to travel from land to land and be borrowed. Who was the first to suggest that beating (or flogging) a willing horse is a silly occupation, and who countered it with the idea that beating a dead horse is equally stupid?

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