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The truth about “Auld Lang Syne”

Over the years since it was written, many millions must have sung ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (roughly translated as ‘days long past’) while sharing Mr. Micawber’s ignorance of what of its words actually mean. Most of us go through the year without singing a single song by Robert Burns, and then, within the space of 25 days, sing this one twice on January 1st and 25th

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How did hiring begin?

Those who read word columns in newspapers and popular journals know that columnists usually try to remain on the proverbial cutting edge of politics and be “topical.” For instance, I can discuss any word I like, and in the course of more than ten years I have written essays about words as different as dude and god (though my most popular stories deal with smut; I have no idea why).

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…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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Words of 2015 round-up

Word of the Year season has closed with the selections of the American Dialect Society this past weekend, so it’s time to reflect on the different words of the 2015. The refugee crisis and gender politics have featured prominently in selections around the globe as well as the influence of technology.

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If “ifs” and “ands” were pots and pans….

If things happened as they are suggested in the title above, I would not have been able to write this post, and, considering that 2016 has just begun, it would have been a minor catastrophe. People of all ages and, as they used to say, from all walks of life want to know something about word origins, but they prefer to ask questions about “colorful” words (slang).

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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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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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It’s not a crime, it’s a blunder

The author of the pronouncement in the title above is a matter of dispute, and we’ll leave his name in limbo, where I believe it belongs. The Internet will supply those interested in the attribution with all the information they need. The paradoxical dictum (although the original is in French, even Murray’s OED gave its English version in the entry blunder) is ostensibly brilliant but rather silly.

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OUP’s NYC office hosts a spelling bee

This past summer, several employees at the New York City office of Oxford University Press took part in a rite that most of haven’t experienced since elementary school: a spelling bee. In the age of autocorrect and spellchecker, the skill of spelling has undoubtedly lost some of its luster.

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Blunted purpose: The origin of blunt, Part 2

In their search for the origin of blunt, etymologists roamed long and ineffectually among similar-sounding words and occasionally came close to the sought-for source, though more often look-alikes led them astray. One of such decoys was Old Engl. blinn. Blinn and blinnan meant “cessation” and “to cease” respectively, but how can “cease” and “devoid of sharpness; obtuse” be related?

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To whet your almost blunted purpose… Part 1

Yes, you understood the title and identified its source correctly: this pseudo-Shakespearean post is meant to keep you interested in the blog “The Oxford Etymologist” and to offer some new ideas on the origin of the highlighted adjective.

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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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