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New frontiers in evolutionary linguistics

Our mother tongues seem to us like the natural way to communicate, but it is perhaps a universal human experience to be confronted and confused by a very different language. We can’t help but wonder how and why other languages sound so strange to us, and can be so difficult to learn as adults. This is an even bigger surprise when we consider that all languages come from a common source.

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Oxford Dictionaries

Political profanity and crude creativity on the campaign trail

In the United States, thoughts are turning to the start of the primary season, when votes are cast to choose each party’s presidential nominee. It’s a complicated and sometimes very long process, beginning in Iowa and winding all the way to the conventions in the summer, and every time it gets going, there are certain buzzwords that seem to find their way into the American popular consciousness.

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Concentrate! The challenges of reading onscreen

Our lives are full of distractions: overheard conversations, the neighbor’s lawnmower, a baby crying in the row behind us, pop-up ads on our computers. Much of the time we can mentally dismiss their presence. But what about when we are reading? I have been studying how people read with printed text versus on digital devices.

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It’s fine to start sentences with “and”

I always see some shocked faces when I tell a classroom of college students that there is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with the word and (or for that matter, the words but, because, or however). I encourage them to not to take my word for it but to look it up, so I refer them to Ernest Gowers’ 1965 revision of Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage.

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9780198754275

How English became English – and not Latin

English grammar has been closely bound up with that of Latin since the 16th century, when English first began to be taught in schools. Given that grammatical instruction prior to this had focused on Latin, it’s not surprising that teachers based their grammars of English on Latin. The title of John Hewes’ work of 1624 neatly encapsulates its desire to make English grammar conform to that of Latin.

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‘Mate’ in Australian English

Mate is one of those words that is used widely in Englishes other than Australian English, and yet has a special resonance in Australia. Although it had a very detailed entry in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (the letter M was completed 1904–8), the Australian National Dictionary (AND) included mate in its first edition of 1988, thus marking it as an Australianism.

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9780195387070

…whether the wether will weather the weather

It so happens that I have already touched on the first and the last member of the triad whetherwetherweather in the past. By a strange coincidence, the interval between the posts dealing with them was exactly four years: they appeared on 19 April 2006 (weather) and 21 April 2010 (whether) respectively.

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How do you pronounce “Pulitzer?”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize, the annual prize in journalism and letters established by the estate of Joseph Pulitzer in 1916 and run by the Columbia School of Journalism (also established by Pulitzer’s estate). The first Pulitzer Prizes in reporting were given in 1917 to Herbert Bayard Swope of New York World for a series of articles titled “Inside the German Empire” and to the New York Tribune for its editorial on the first anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania.

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Gender politics of the generic “he”

There’s been a lot of talk lately about what pronouns to use for persons whose gender is unknown, complicated, or irrelevant. Options include singular they and invented, common-gender pronouns. Each has its defenders and its critics.

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9780195387070

Etymology gleanings for December 2015

I often refer to the English etymological dictionary by Hensleigh Wedgwood, and one of our correspondents became seriously interested in this work. He wonders why the third edition is not available online. I don’t know, but I doubt that it is protected by copyright. It is even harder for me to answer the question about the changes between the second and the third edition.

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Oxford Dictionaries

From teaspoons to tea-sots: the language of tea

Tea was first imported into Britain early in the seventeenth century, becoming very popular by the 1650s. The London diarist Samuel Pepys drank his first cup in 1660, as recorded in his famous diary: “I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drunk before.”

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9780199300914

How to write a letter of recommendation

It’s that time of the year again. Seniors are thinking ahead about their impending futures (a job, grad school, the Peace Corps). Former students are advancing in their careers. Colleagues and co-workers are engaging in year-end reflection and considering new positions.

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Season’s greetings – Episode 29 – The Oxford Comment

Say goodbye to endless stuffing: it’s time to welcome our most beloved season of wreaths, wrapping paper…and confusion. The questions, as we began delving, were endless. Should we say happy holidays or season’s greetings?

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