Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Buzzword shaming

By Mark Peters
I recently wrote about the proliferation of the lexical formula “X-shaming,” launched by slut-shaming and body-shaming and taken to preposterous extremes by words such as filter-shaming and fedora-shaming. Everywhere you look, someone is talking about shaming. The hyphen is optional, but the topic is increasingly mandatory.

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Edwin Battistella’s Word of the Year Fantasy League

By Edwin Battistella
Oxford Dictionaries have been collecting lexicographic material and updating dictionaries for over a century now, though its Word of the Year award is still relatively recent. Only since 2004 Oxford Dictionaries have been selecting a word that captures the mood of the previous year. Thinking about the possible contenders for 2013 (twerk? fail? drone? shutdown? bitcoin?) got me to wondering about the past.

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Edwin Battistella’s words

By Edwin Battistella
The annual Word of the Year selection by Oxford Dictionaries and others inspired me to an odd personal challenge last year. In November of 2011, about the time that Oxford Dictionaries were settling on squeezed middle as both the UK and US word of the year, I made a New Year’s Resolution for 2012.

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Lincoln’s rhetoric in the Gettysburg Address

By Jeanne Fahnestock
Perhaps no speech in the canon of American oratory is as famous as the “Dedicatory Remarks” delivered in a few minutes, one hundred and fifty years ago, by President Abraham Lincoln. And though school children may no longer memorize the conveniently brief 272 words of “The Gettysburg Address,” most American can still recall its opening and closing phrases.

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An interlude

By Anatoly Liberman
Every word journalist is on the lookout for interesting pieces of information about language. H. W. Fowler, the author of the great and incomparable book Modern English Usage, confessed that his main reading was newspapers. Naturally: where else could he find so much garbled English?

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How to be an English language tourist?

By David Crystal
Hilary and I asked ourselves this question repeatedly when we were planning the tour that we eventually wrote up as Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain. Where can you find out about the places that influenced the character and study of the English language in Britain? How do you get there? And what do you find when you get there?

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Challenges of the social life of language

When we consider two obvious facts – that virtually everyone becomes a fluent speaker of at least one language, and that language is central to social life – we can see that most of us are quite sociolinguistically talented. Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, we know quite a lot about many of the intricacies of “the social life of language.” This doesn’t mean, however, that our knowledge is complete or wholly accurate. Here are ten illustrations of the point.

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Three recent theories of “kibosh”

By Anatoly Liberman
The phrase put the kibosh on surfaced in texts in the early thirties of the nineteenth century. For a long time etymologists have been trying to discover what kibosh means and where it came from. Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, Gaelic Irish, and French have been explored for that purpose.

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Sound symbolism and product names

By Barbara Malt
In many animal communications, there’s a transparent link between what is being communicated and how that message is communicated. Animal threat displays, for instance, often make the aggressor look larger and fiercer through raising of the hair and baring of the teeth. A dog communicates excitement through look and sound.

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Alphabet soup, part 2: H and Y

By Anatoly Liberman
This is a story of the names of two letters. Appreciate the fact that I did not call it “A Tale of Two Letters.” No other phrase has been pawed over to such an extent as the title of Dickens’s novel.

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Alphabet soup, part 1: V and Z

By Anatoly Liberman
It is common knowledge that an average page of an English dictionary contains at least twice as many borrowed as native words, even though come, go, see, sit, stand, do, make, man, woman, in, on, and other similar heavy duty words go back to Old English.

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On ‘work ethic’

By Peter Womack
The expression is somehow on everybody’s lips. Its incidence in the media has risen steadily over the last decade or so, and now an attentive reader of the broadsheets is likely to encounter it every day. It’s most often found on the sports pages: one recent forty-eight-hour period registered online praise for the respective work ethics of the footballer Nicolas Anelka, the cricketer Peter Siddle, the tennis player Marion Bartoli, and the British Lions rugby team.

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An idioms and formulaic language quiz

By Audrey Ingerson
On this day in 1928, sliced bread was sold for the first time by the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri. Ever since then, sliced bread has been held up as the ideal — at least in idiomatic expressions. Ever heard of “the greatest thing since sliced bread”?

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Monthly etymological gleanings for June 2013

By Anatoly Liberman
One cannot predict which posts will interest the public and which will leave them indifferent. I hoped that my “revolutionary” hypothesis on the origin of Old Nick would result in a tidal wave (title wave, as some of my students write), but it did not produce as much as a ripple, whereas the fairly trivial essay on the letter y aroused a lively discussion.

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