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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly etymology gleanings for February 2015

One month is unlike another. Sometimes I receive many letters and many comments; then lean months may follow. February produced a good harvest (“February fill the dyke,” as they used to say), and I can glean a bagful. Perhaps I should choose a special title for my gleanings: “I Am All Ears” or something like it.

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Celebrating linguistic diversity on International Mother Language Day

It’s Thursday evening in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. I am late for an appointment to see my friend Shimanto (lit. boundary [Sanskrit]). On the street I shout ‘ei mama jaben?’ (Hey uncle, will you go? [Bangla]) to catch an auto-rickshaw (auto [English] man-powered-wheeler [Japanese]). After striking the deal, I sit inside the three-wheeler. As the young driver speeds up almost hitting passers-by and curses ‘jyam khub kharap!’ (Traffic jam [English] is very bad! [Persian]), I recollect the writing at the back of the car: ‘allāḥ sarvaśaktimān’ (God [Arabic] almighty [Sanskrit]).

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Crossing the threshold: Why “thresh ~ thrash”?

The previous post dealt with the uneasy history of the word threshold, and throughout the text I wrote thresh~ thrash, as though those were two variants of the same word. Yet today they are two different words, and their relation poses a few questions. Old English had the strong verb þerscan (þ = th in Engl. thresh), with cognates everywhere in Germanic.

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Education, metaphorically speaking

What do we think education means? What do we believe are teaching’s purpose, status, and function in society? A useful way to reflect on our pre-conceptions and assumptions about anything is to step back and consider the metaphors we automatically apply when thinking or speaking of it. This is a particularly useful exercise for the trainee teacher, who, for obvious reasons, is likely to frame teaching primarily in terms of a performance – one that is observed, analysed, graded and, if all goes well, given the pedagogic equivalent of a five star review.

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Oxford Dictionaries

Fresh Off the Boat and the language of the Asian-American experience

Fresh Off the Boat, the newest addition to ABC’s primetime lineup, has garnered more than its share of attention in the lead-up to its recent debut: based on restaurateur Eddie Huang’s critically-acclaimed memoir, it’s the first sitcom in 20 years since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl to feature an Asian-American family at its epicenter, assuming a place among the network’s recent crop of 21st-century family comedies, including Modern Family, Blackish, and Cristela.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Our habitat: threshold

One does not have to be a specialist to suggest that threshold is either a disguised compound or that it contains a root and some impenetrable suffix. Disguised compounds are words like bridal (originally, bride + ale but now not even a noun as in the past, because -al was taken for the suffix of an adjective) or barn, a blend of the words for “barley,” of which only b is extant, and Old Engl. earn “house.”

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Our habitat: one more etymology brought “home”

When it comes to origins, we know as little about the word home as about the word house. Distinguished American linguist Winfred P. Lehmann noted that no Indo-European terminology for even small settlements has been preserved in Germanic. And here an important distinction should be made.

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Reading on-screen versus on paper

If over the holidays you received a book, was it digital or printed on paper? E-books (and devices on which to read them) are multiplying like rabbits, as are the numbers of eReading devotees. It’s easy to assume, particularly in the United States, with the highest level of eBook sales worldwide, that the only way this trend can go is up. Yes, there was triple-digit eBook growth in 2009, 2010, and 2011, though by 2014 those figures had settled down into the single digits.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly gleanings for January 2015

I am pleased to report that A Happy New Year is moving along its warlike path at the predicted speed of one day in twenty-four hours and that it is already the end of January. Spring will come before you can say Jack Robinson, as Kipling’s bicolored python would put it, and soon there will be snowdrops to glean. Etymology and spelling are the topics today. Some other questions will be answered in February.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Our habitat: house

It is astounding how mysterious the origin of such simple words as man, wife, son, god, house, and others like them is. They are old, even ancient, and over time their form has changed very little, sometimes not at all, so that we do not have to break through a thicket of sound laws to restitute their initial form.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. on courage, equality, and justice

Each January, Americans commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., reflecting on the enduring legacy of the legendary civil rights activist. From his iconic speech at the Civil Rights March of 1963, to his final oration in Memphis, Tennessee, King is remembered not only as a masterful rhetorician, but a luminary for his generation and many generations to come. These quotes, compiled from the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, demonstrate the reverberating impact of this work, particularly in a time of great social, political, and economic upheaval.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Our habitat: dwelling

A dwelling is, obviously, a place in which someone dwells. Although the word is transparent , the verb dwell is not. Only its derivation poses no problems. Some verbs belong to the so-called causative group. They mean “to make do or to cause to do.”

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Words of 2014 Round-up

Word of the Year season closed this weekend with the annual meeting of the American Dialect Society. As usual, major news stories dominated selections, but there has been a notable uptick in social media-related choices. It is interesting to note how hashtags are becoming more prevalent with #IndyRef as a common runner-up, and #dirtypolitics and #blacklivesmatter winning the title.

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Oxford Dictionaries

Walking in a winter wonderland . . . of words

Where I live in New York State, about two hours north of the Pennsylvania border, the transition from one season to the next is rarely (if ever) coincidental with the astronomical designation applied to it. Of the four annual calendar dates of seasonal shift, none is more laughable to us in the Leatherstocking Region than the winter solstice.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly gleanings for December 2014, Part 2

Although I am still in 2014, as the title of this post indicates, in the early January one succumbs to the desire to say something memorable that will set the tone to the rest of the year. So I would like to remind everybody that in 1915 James Murray, the first and greatest editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) or New English Dictionary (NED), died.

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