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9780195387070

“It takes nine tailors to make a man” and other wonders on Cloud Nine

The proverb in the title of this post rarely, if ever, occurs in modern literature and may even have been forgotten but for the title of Dorothy Sayers’ novel. However, at one time it was well-known, and extensive literature is devoted to it. The publications appeared not only in the indispensable Notes and Queries, American Notes and Queries, and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine but also in such great newspapers and periodicals as The British Apollo and Churchman’s Shilling Magazine, to say nothing of Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom.

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9780195387070

Etymology gleanings for March 2016

Preparation for the Spelling Congress is underway. The more people will send in their proposals, the better. On the other hand (or so it seems to me), the fewer people participate in this event and the less it costs in terms of labor/labour and money, the more successful it will turn out to be. The fate of English spelling has been discussed in passionate terms since at least the 1840s.

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9780199668427

Why people enjoy hearing Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation

Since the groundbreaking Original Pronunciation productions at Shakespeare’s Globe in London in 2004-05, OP has captured the imagination of performers, directors, and the play-going public. Going back to the pronunciation of the late 16th and early 17th centuries reveals nuances, puns, and rhymes that otherwise lie completely hidden, and gives fresh dynamism to productions.

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Oxford Dictionaries

Word in the news: Mastermind

In a speech made after the November terrorist attacks in Paris, President Obama criticized the media’s use of the word mastermind to describe Abdelhamid Abaaoud. “He’s not a mastermind,” he stated. “He found a few other vicious people, got hands on some fairly conventional weapons, and sadly, it turns out that if you’re willing to die you can kill a lot of people.”

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The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology

Music and what it means to be human

Music is a human construct. What is acknowledged as ‘music’ varies between cultures, groups, and individuals. The Igbo of Nigeria have no specific term for music: the term nkwa denotes ‘singing, playing instruments and dancing’.

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9780199656431

Is name studies a discipline in its own right?

Name studies have been around for a long time. In Ancient Greece, philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle saw names as central to the understanding of language, providing key insights into human communication and thought. Still, to the present day, questions such as Are names nouns? and Do names have meaning? are still hotly debated by scholars within both linguistics and name studies.

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9780195387070

‘Vulpes vulpes,’ or foxes have holes. Part 2

Last week, I discussed the role of taboo in naming animals, a phenomenon that often makes a search for origins difficult or even impossible. Still another factor of the same type is the presence of migratory words. The people of one locality may have feared, hunted, or coexisted in peace with a certain animal for centuries. They, naturally, call it something.

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9780199668427

Original pronunciation: the state of the art in 2016

In 2004, Shakespeare’s Globe in London began a daring experiment. They decided to mount a production of a Shakespeare play in ‘original pronunciation’ (OP) – a reconstruction of the accents that would have been used on the London stage around the year 1600, part of a period known as Early Modern English. They chose Romeo and Juliet as their first production, but – uncertain about how the unfamiliar accent would be received by the audience – performances in OP took place for only one weekend.

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Oxford Dictionaries

The Great Pottery Throw Down and language

The newest knockout competition on British television is The Great Pottery Throw Down (GPTD), in which an initial ten potters produce a variety of ceramic work each week, the most successful being declared Top Potter, and the least successful being ‘asked to leave’. The last four then compete in a final […]

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Illuminating Shakespeare

Translating Shakespeare

Translation of Shakespeare’s works is almost as old as Shakespeare himself; the first German adaptations date from the early 17th century. And within Shakespeare’s plays, moments of translation create comic relief and heighten the awareness that communication is not a given. Translation also served as a metaphor for physical transformation or transportation.

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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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