“The Foxes of Harrow” (1946), a Southern historical romance by Black Irish-American author Frank Yerby (1916–1991), writes back to Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling novel, “Gone with the Wind” (1936). Although Yerby and Mitchell were both raised in Georgia during segregation by mothers of Irish descent, their socially assigned racial identities created divergent approaches to representing the pre- and post-Civil War South in their respective novels.
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.
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.
Mary Stewart became Queen of Scots aged only 6 days old after her father James V died in 1542. Her family, whose name was anglicised to Stuart in the seventeenth century, had ruled Scotland since 1371 and were to do so until the death of Queen Anne in 1714. Raised in France from 1548, she married the heir to the French throne (1558) and did not come to Scotland until after he died in 1561.
Since publishing Sorry About That a year ago, I’ve been trying to keep track of apologies in the news. Google sends me a handful of news items every day. Some are curious (“J.K. Rowling issues apology over slain ‘Harry Potter’ character”), some are cute (“Blizzard 2015: Meteorologist apologizes for ‘big forecast miss’”), and some are sad (“An open apology to my kids on the subject of my divorce”).
By Anatoly Liberman
What does it take to be a successful etymologist? Obviously, an ability to put two and two together. But all scholarly work, every deduction needs this ability. The more words and forms one knows, the greater is the chance that the result will be reasonably convincing.
The origin of plant names is one of the most interesting areas of etymology. I have dealt with henbane, hemlock, horehound, and mistletoe and know how thorny the gentlest flowers may be for a language historian. It is certain that horehound has nothing to do with hounds, and I hope to have shown that henbane did not get its name because it is particularly dangerous to hens (which hardly ever peck at it, and even if they did, why should they have been chosen as the poisonous plant’s preferred victims?).
The concept of global science was not new in the nineteenth century. Nor was that of government-sponsored science. But during the 1830s and 1840s, both of these concepts underwent a profound transformation: one that still has ramifications over today’s relationship between specialist knowledge and the modern nation state.
Given his decided penchant for spectacle—he crowned himself emperor, after all—there is no reason to be surprised that Napoleon’s empire soon included the cinema, a medium his visual ubiquity made ripe for conquest. To prepare for our newest Napoleon, it is worth looking back on some of his prior celluloid incarnations, some great and others less so.
Every year, Peer Review Week honors the contributions of scientists, academics, and researchers in all fields for the hours of work they put into peer reviewing manuscripts to ensure quality work is published. This year, the theme of Peer Review Week is “The Future of Peer Review.”
The Oxford Etymologist responds to readers comments on his most recent blog post topics.
Writers need to love words—the good, the bad, and the irregular. And they need to respect syntax, the patterns that give words their form. But when writers understand the power of phrases, their sentences shine.
The Oxford Etymologist dives into the history and meaning of the word “coward” – and what does cowardice have to do with custard?
The making of Façade “Poetry is more like a crystal globe, with Truth imprisoned in it, like a fly in amber. The poet is the magician who fashions the crystal globe. But the reader is the magician who can find in these scintillating flaws, or translucent depths, some new undiscovered land.” Osbert Sitwell, writing in 1921 […]
Marilyn Monroe attended the Oscars only once in 1951, before the Academy Awards were even televised. Ana de Armas is nominated for playing Monroe in Blonde this year, but Marilyn’s work as an actress is rarely given the recognition it deserves.
The Oxford Etymologist explores a selection of idioms, including the amazing story of the phrase “fox’s wedding.”