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Word Origins

The B-word and its kin

Not too long ago, I promised to return to the origin of b-d words. Today I’ll deal with Engl. bad and its look-alikes, possibly for the last time—not because everything is now clear (nothing is clear), but because I have said all I could, and even this post originated as an answer to the remarks by our correspondents John Larsson (Denmark) and Olivier van Renswoude (the Netherlands).

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When everywhere is a grave: remembering WWII casualties in Belarus

On 22 June 2015, the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko opened a new memorial complex at the site of the former extermination camp Maly Trostenets near Minsk. Between 1941 and 1944, German occupants and their helpers interned and killed up to 206,500 people in this camp and in the nearby forest of Blagovshchina.

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Wading through an endless field, or, still gleaning

What is the origin of the now popular phrase in the house, as in “Ladies and gentlemen, Bobby Brown is in the house”? I don’t know, but a short explanation should be added to my response. A good deal depends on the meaning of the question “What is the origin of a certain phrase?” If the querist wonders when the phrase surfaced in writing, the date, given our resources, is usually ascertainable.

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Police shootings and the black community

In a recent Huffington Post piece entitled “Police Shootings Are About Class as Well as Race,” Jesse Jackson argued that the issue of police violence specifically, and an unjust and excessive criminal justice system in general, are disproportionately experienced by the poor, irrespective of race.

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Aylan Kurdi: A Dickensian moment

The international response to the photographs of the dead body of three year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, washed ashore on a Turkish beach on 2 September 2015, has prompted intense debate. That debate has been not only about the proper attitude of Britain and other countries to the refugee crisis, but also about the proper place of strong emotions in political life.

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Back to the “stove front”: an oral history project about Cuban housewives

We recently asked you to tell us to send us your reflections, stories, and the difficulties you’ve faced while doing oral history. This week, we bring you another post in this series, focusing on an oral history project from Carmen Doncel and Henry Eric Hernández. We encourage you to to chime into the discussion, comment below or on our Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and G+ pages.

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Kuwait’s war on ISIS and DNA

Kuwait is changing the playing field. In early July, just days after the June 26th deadly Imam Sadiq mosque bombing claimed by ISIS, Kuwait ruled to instate mandatory DNA-testing for all permanent residents. This is the first use of DNA testing at the national-level for security reasons, specifically as a counter-terrorism measure. An initial $400 million dollars is set aside for collecting the DNA profiles of all 1.3 million citizens and 2.9 million foreign residents

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Speak—Spoke and Spoke—Spike

This is my 500th post for “The Oxford Etymologist,” nine and a half years after this blog started in March 2006, and I decided to celebrate this event by writing something light and entertaining. Enough wrestling with words like bad, good, and god! Anyone can afford a week’s break. So today I’ll discuss an idiom that sounds trivial only because it is so familiar. Familiarity breeds not only contempt but also indifference.

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A magical elixir for the mind

The brain is a product of its complex and multi-million year history of solving the problems of survival for its host, you, in an ever-changing environment. Overall, your brain is fairly fast but not too efficient, which is probably why so many of us utilize stimulants such as coffee and nicotine to perform tasks more efficiently. Thus far, no one has been able to design a therapy that can make a person truly smarter.

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Water and conflict

The four-year drought in California, which is causing severe water shortages and related problems, is receiving increasingly more attention. It is affecting everyone, causing people to adjust their lifestyles and causing small business owners and entire industries to rethink their use–and misuse–of water.

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Wendell Willkie: a forerunner to Donald Trump

It is the stuff of political legend: facing a bevy of prominent candidates within the Republican Party, a straight-talking businessman comes out of nowhere to wrest the GOP nomination away from the party’s customary leadership. Energizing volunteers from across the country, the former executive capitalizes on fear about the international situation to achieve a stunning, dark-horse victory unique in American politics.

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Medicare and end-of-life medical care

Medicare recently announced that it will pay for end-of-life counseling as a legitimate medical service. This announcement provoked little controversy. Several groups, including the National Right to Life Committee, expressed concern that such counseling could coerce elderly individuals to terminate medical treatment they want. However, Medicare’s statement was largely treated as uncontroversial—indeed, almost routine in nature.

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Medicare and Medicaid myths: setting the 50-year record straight

Over the past half-century, Medicare and Medicaid have constituted the bedrock of American healthcare, together providing insurance coverage for more than 100 million people. Yet these programs remain controversial: clashes endure between opponents who criticize costly, “big government” programs and supporters who see such programs as essential to the nation’s commitment to protect the vulnerable.

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OxBibs in African Studies

We are all African, but we also have our own histories

In May 2015, at a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya, a French-led international team announced the discovery of the oldest stone tools known yet. Dating back to more than 3.3 million years ago, these crude flakes, cores, and anvils represent the earliest steps in our evolution into a species reliant on, if not defined by, the use of tools and other manufactured objects. Coined the ‘pre-Oldowan’ or ‘Lomekwian’ after the site in West Turkana at which they were found, these tools are larger and cruder than the more recent Oldowan industry.

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Ten myths about the French Revolution

The French Revolution was one of the most momentous events in world history yet, over 220 years since it took place, many myths abound. Some of the most important and troubling of these myths relate to how a revolution that began with idealistic and humanitarian goals resorted to ‘the Terror’.

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