Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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What does he mean by ‘I love you?’

By Cristina Soriano
Have you ever had difficulty expressing your emotions in words? Have people misinterpreted what you feel even if you name it? If you speak more than one language, you’re almost certain to have answered “yes”.

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How the Humanities changed the world

By Rens Bod
Have insights from the humanities ever led to breakthroughs, or is any interpretation of a text, painting, musical piece, or historical event as good as any other? I have long been fascinated with this question. To be sure, insights from the humanities have had an impact on society.

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Thinking about the mind: an anti-linguistic turn

By Bence Nanay
Contemporary philosophy of mind is an offshoot of philosophy of language. Most formative figures of modern philosophy of mind started out as philosophers of language. This is hardly surprising – almost everyone in that generation started out as a philosopher of language. But this focus on language left its mark on the way we now think about the mind – and this is not necessarily a good thing.

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Whoa, or “the road we rode”

By Anatoly Liberman
The world has solved its gravest problems, but a few minor ones have remained. Judging by the Internet, the spelling of whoa is among them. Some people clamor for woah, which is a perversion of whoa and hence “cool”; only bores, it appears, don’t understand it. I understand the rebels but wonder.

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Dialect and identity: Pittsburghese goes to the opera

By Barbara Johnstone
On a Sunday afternoon in November I am at the Benedum Center with hundreds of fellow Pittsburghers watching a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. It’s the second act, and Papageno the bird-man has just found his true love. The English super-titles help us decipher what he is saying as he starts to exit the stage.

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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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