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9780190468903

The language of chess

The dust has barely settled on last year’s world chess championship match in New York: Norway’s Magnus Carlson defended his title again the tough challenger Sergei Karjakin, in a close match. The event got me thinking about the language of chess strategy and tactics and the curious history and multicultural origins of chess terminology.

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9780195387070

In one’s cups, or: good wine needs no bush

A Happy New Year! It has arrived, in full accordance with The Oxford Etymologist’s bold promise. Once upon a time, the ability to see into the future was called second sight (clairvoyance is too bookish).

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Awaiting the Modern Language Association (MLA) convention

The MLA convention is swiftly approaching and our OUP staff members, eagerly waiting, dream of magic gardens, colonial architecture, cheesesteaks, and, of course, lots and lots of books! To share our excitement for the Modern Language Association conference, we’ve asked three OUP attendees-our philosophy veteran, UK counterpart, and newcomer.

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Quoting the New Year and lessons from the past

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us,” once said American author Hal Borland. New Year’s for him was a continuation, an extension of the previous year and what it had brought would be useful in the coming ones.

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9780195387070

Looming, looming, looming: Part 2

The New Year is looming! I can write a most edifying post about 2017, or rather about what happened a hundred years ago, in 1917, but this is an etymological blog, so I, a hard-working cobbler, will stick to my last.

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9780190468903

Understanding insults

When I was growing up in New Jersey, trading insults was part of making your way through the middle school: “If they put your brain on the edge of a razor blade, it would look like a BB rolling down a four-lane highway.” “His parents used to put a pork chop around his neck to get the dog to play with him.” “If you could teach him to stand still, you could use him for a doorstop.”

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British and Irish family names [infographic]

As the population of Britain and Ireland grows, some surnames are becoming even more common and widespread, alongside a steady continuation of uncommon surnames; but how many of us know anything about our family names’ origins – where it comes from, what it means today, and exactly how long it has actually been around for? Names derive from the diverse language and cultural movement of people who have settled in Britain and Ireland over history

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An ax(e) to grind

That words travel from land to land is no secret. I do not only mean the trivial borrowings of the type known so well from the history of English. For instance, more than a thousand years ago, the Vikings settled in most of Britain, and therefore English is full of Scandinavian words.

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Quotes of the year 2016 [quiz]

2016 has truly been a year to remember — from the amazing competition of the Rio Olympic Games to shock Brexit from Europe, and from environmental woes to the American presidential race. Famous faces have had no shortage of opinions on current events, with celebrities, athletes and politicians not being shy to express their views.

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2016’s most popular baby names and their meanings

Every year, there is much speculation as to which names are rising or falling in popularity. Figures published by the BBC for the most popular baby names of 2015 had Oliver and Amelia as the two favourites. So far, 2016 has thrown up some surprise results with Isla currently top for girls (up four places from last year), and Alfie (a new entry) making it to the boys’ top spot.

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The people of the mist

The true people of the mist are not the tribesman of Haggard’s celebrated novel but students of etymology. They spend their whole lives in the mist (or in the fog) and have little hope to see the sun.

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The history behind selected family names in Britain and Ireland [map]

We all have a surname, but how many of us know anything about its roots – origin, history, and what it means today? Family names are evidence of the diverse language and cultural movement of people who have settled in Britain and Ireland over history. Surnames can be varied, but not uncommon – for example there a large amount of occupational names like Smith and Baker.

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Chomsky at 88

Few probably anticipated that the boy who was born on this day in 1928 would become one of the founding fathers of modern linguistics and one of the world’s foremost intellectuals. Noam Avram Chomsky’s foundational work has influenced, inspired, and divided scholars working on language for more than 60 years.

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Word Origins

Etymology gleanings for November 2016

I keep receiving this question with some regularity (once a year or so), and, since I have answered it several times, I’ll confine myself to a few very general remarks. Etymology is a branch of historical linguistics dealing with the origin of words. It looks at the sound shape and meaning of words and at the cultural milieu in which words were coined. Quite often a word has related forms in several languages, and all of them have to be compared.

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9780199668427

How did Shakespeare originally sound?

We all know the classic Shakespearean lines – “To be or not to be,” “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” or “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” — but how would these famous lines have sounded to Elizabethan audiences? Are we currently misinterpreting the Bard? This question has been on the mind of Shakespeare scholars, directors, actors, and audiences for a long time, and has proved a tricky problem.

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