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The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is… an emoji

As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to look back and see which words have been significant throughout the past twelve months, and to announce the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year. Without further ado, we can reveal that the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2015 is…

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Katy Perry vs. William Shakespeare: Grammar showdown

Why is Katy Perry’s song title “I Kissed a Girl” grammatically correct? Which famous playwright frequently mixed up “who” vs. “whom?” Are students as terrible at using modern grammar as they think they are? We sat down with author and grammarian, Stephen Spector, to learn more about the history of English grammar and how we can get better at using it.

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Oxford Dictionaries

The AUTO- age

How readily someone may be understood when using a new word will depend on several factors: the intuitable transparency of meaning, its clarity in context, the receptiveness of the audience, and so on.

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Seven ways to start and keep your writing going

Beginnings are tough. But if we’d only get started, our marks and words on the page can bootstrap our next moves. Marks and words out there, on the page, feed what in neuroscience is called our brain’s “perception-action” cycle. Through this built-in and biologically fundamental mechanism, we repeatedly act on the world, and then look to see what our actions have wrought in the world.

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You’ll be a man, my son. Part 1

The title will probably be recognized at once: it is part of the last line of Kipling’s poem “If.” Unfortunately, Kipling’s only son John never became a man; he was killed in 1918 at the age of eighteen, a casualty of his father’s overblown patriotism. Our chances to reach consensus on the origin of the word man are not particularly high either.

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How to solve an anagram

Many word games—Scrabble, Words with Friends, Scribbage, Quiddler and more, involve anagrams, or unscrambling letters to make a word. This month, we take a look at how to do that unscrambling, so here is an anagram for you to solve: naitp.

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What defines good writing?

What distinguishes good writing from bad writing? How can people transform their writing to make it more powerful and more effective? Are universities teaching students how to become better writers? In order to answer these questions and others, we sat down with Geoffrey Huck, an associate professor of the Professional Writing Program at York University.

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Pathfinders

For a long time I have been dealing with the words bad, bed, bud, body, bodkin, butt, bottom, and their likes. The readers who have followed the discussion will probably guess from today’s title that now the time of path has come round.

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Monthly etymology gleanings for October 2015

I keep receiving comments and questions about idioms. One of our correspondents enjoys the phrase drunk as Cooter Brown. This is a well-known simile, current mostly or exclusively in the American south. I can add nothing to the poor stock of legends connected with Mr. Brown. Those who claim that they know where such characters came from should be treated with healthy distrust.

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Oxford Dictionaries

George Orwell and the origin of the term ‘cold war’

On 19 October 1945, George Orwell used the term cold war in his essay “You and the Atom Bomb,” speculating on the repercussions of the atomic age which had begun two months before when the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

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The “Bottom” Line

As promised in the previous post, I am going from body to bottom. No one attacked my risky etymology of body. Perhaps no one was sufficiently interested, or (much more likely) the stalwarts of the etymological establishment don’t read this blog and have no idea that a week ago a mine was planted under one of their theories.

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Gin a body meet a body

I am not sure that any lexicographer or historian of linguistics thought of writing an essay on James Murray as a speaker and journalist, though such an essay would allow the author to explore the workings of Murray’s mind and the development of his style. (Let me remind our readers that Murray, 1837-1915, died a hundred years ago.)

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Words from books

October is an important month for book festivals—in Boston, Austin, Madison, Baton Rouge, and of course Frankfurt, Germany, which hosts the world’s oldest book festival. In honor of book festivals, I want to delve a bit into the way that the language of books expanded the English vocabulary.

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Oxford Dictionaries

Do East and West Germans still speak a different language?

On 12 September 1990, about ten months after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the foreign ministers of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) met with their French, American, British, and Soviet counterparts in Moscow to sign the so-called Two-Plus-Four Treaty.

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Bare bodkins and sparsely clothed buttinskis, or, speaking daggers but using none

Few people would today have remembered the word bodkin if it had not occurred in the most famous of Hamlet’s monologues. Chaucer was the earliest author in whose works bodkin occurred. At its appearance, it had three syllables and a diphthong in the root, for it was spelled boidekin. The suffix –kin suggested to John Minsheu, our first English etymologist (1617), that he was dealing with a Dutch noun.

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Trick or treat – Episode 27 – The Oxford Comment

From baristas preparing pumpkin spiced lattes to grocery store aisles lined with bags of candy, the season has arrived for all things sweet-toothed and scary. Still, centuries after the holiday known as “Halloween” became cultural phenomenon, little is known to popular culture about its religious, artistic, and linguistic dimensions.

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