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9780195387070

“Vulpes vulpes,” or foxes have holes. Part 1

The idea of today’s post was inspired by a question from a correspondent. She is the author of a book on foxes and wanted more information on the etymology of fox. I answered her but thought that our readers might also profit by a short exploration of this theme. Some time later I may even risk an essay on the fully opaque dog. But before coming to the point, I will follow my hero’s habits and spend some time beating about the bush and covering my tracks.

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sorry about that

How to polish your résumé

I’ve read a lot of résumés over the years. I’ve read 35-page résumés from senior academics documenting every Rotary talk, guest lecture, and letter to the editor. I’ve read not-quite-one-page résumés from high school students giving their neighbors as references. In the process, I’ve come to think of résumé reading as an acquired literary taste, like flarf or fanfiction. And I’ve come to think of résumé writing as a unique genre with its own rhetorical nuances and conventions.

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Language Evolution cover - chosen

New frontiers in evolutionary linguistics

Our mother tongues seem to us like the natural way to communicate, but it is perhaps a universal human experience to be confronted and confused by a very different language. We can’t help but wonder how and why other languages sound so strange to us, and can be so difficult to learn as adults. This is an even bigger surprise when we consider that all languages come from a common source.

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9780195387070

Bosom friends, bosom serpents, and breast pockets

Last week I mentioned my “strong suspicion” that bosom has the same root (“to inflate”) as the verb boast. As a matter of fact, it was a conviction, not a suspicion, but I did not want to show my cards too early. Before plunging into matters etymological, perhaps something should be said about the word’s bizarre spelling.

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9780199948178 (2)

Latin: the Renaissance’s world language

Latin, then, was a ubiquitous and commonplace language in the Renaissance, widely spoken, read, and written across Europe and beyond. If the defining characteristics of what has variously been called a “world language” and a “universal language” are its number of non-native speakers and its international circulation, by the time Erasmus was writing his Colloquies and Shakespeare his comedies Latin had been a paradigmatic world language for well over a millennium.

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9780195387070

To boast, perchance to boost; aye, there’s the rub

Not too long ago I discussed the origin of the verb brag, and already then knew that the turn of boast would soon come round. The etymology of boast is not transparent, but, in my opinion, it is not beyond recovery. Rather than following the immortal royal advice (“begin at the beginning, go on to the end and then stop”), I’ll reverse my route and begin at the end.

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Oxford Dictionaries

Political profanity and crude creativity on the campaign trail

In the United States, thoughts are turning to the start of the primary season, when votes are cast to choose each party’s presidential nominee. It’s a complicated and sometimes very long process, beginning in Iowa and winding all the way to the conventions in the summer, and every time it gets going, there are certain buzzwords that seem to find their way into the American popular consciousness.

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9780195387070

Etymology gleanings for February 2016

It is the origin of idioms that holds out the greatest attraction to those who care about etymology. I have read with interest the comments on all the phrases but cannot add anything of substance to what I wrote in the posts. My purpose was to inspire an exchange of opinions rather than offer a solution. While researching by Jingo, I thought of the word jinn/ jinnee but left the evil spirit in the bottle.

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words on screen cover

Concentrate! The challenges of reading onscreen

Our lives are full of distractions: overheard conversations, the neighbor’s lawnmower, a baby crying in the row behind us, pop-up ads on our computers. Much of the time we can mentally dismiss their presence. But what about when we are reading? I have been studying how people read with printed text versus on digital devices.

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9780199684984

Business and society: new words for new worlds

Neologisms (from Greek néo-, meaning ‘new’ and logos, meaning ‘speech, utterance’) – can do all sorts of jobs. But most straightforwardly new words describe new things. As such they indicate areas of change, perhaps of innovation. They present us with a map, one that can redefine what we know as well as revealing newly explored areas; new words for new worlds.

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Oxford Dictionaries

What does your mother language mean to you?

In 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) created International Mother Language Day, which is celebrated each year on 21 February. Of course, we couldn’t let this date go by without marking the occasion on our Northern Sotho and isiZulu Living Dictionaries. This year, we asked people from a variety of mother tongues to let us know what their native language means to them, and this is what they had to say.

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9780195387070

More on idioms: “kick the bucket”

Last week, in discussing the antiquated idiom hang out the broom, I mentioned kick the bucket and will now return to it. In the entry bucket2, the OED, usually reticent about the origin of such phrases, mentioned what Murray considered might be the most plausible idea. I am writing this essay for two reasons.

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battistella

It’s fine to start sentences with “and”

I always see some shocked faces when I tell a classroom of college students that there is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with the word and (or for that matter, the words but, because, or however). I encourage them to not to take my word for it but to look it up, so I refer them to Ernest Gowers’ 1965 revision of Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage.

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9780198712947

Shakespeare and sex

Shakespeare made many gifts to the English language, but his most memorable gift in the particularly rich and rarefied area of euphemisms for sexual intercourse comes in the opening scene of Othello, when Iago strives to provoke Desdemona’s father Brabantio to outrage with the news that ‘your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.’

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9780195387070

Between language and folklore: “To hang out the broom”

We know even less about the origin of idioms than about the origin of individual words. This is natural: words have tangible components: roots, suffixes, consonants, vowels, and so forth, while idioms spring from customs, rites, and general experience. Yet both are apt to travel from land to land and be borrowed. Who was the first to suggest that beating (or flogging) a willing horse is a silly occupation, and who countered it with the idea that beating a dead horse is equally stupid?

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