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Olympic swimmers meet Latin America’s vast gray area of private security

During the closing week of the Rio games, the biggest story was not about the pool, the mat, or the track but rather about the after-game party . . . and the after-party mess. As of Friday morning, the next-to-last day of the games, the home page of the New York Times was carrying headlines for five separate articles concerning the event. Clearly, the events that unfolded when the swimmers arrived at the gas station as well as the interviews given by American medalist Ryan Lochte…

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The color gray in full bloom

By Anatoly Liberman
At the end of the nineteenth century, while working on the issue of the OED (then known as NED: New English Dictionary) that was to feature the word gray, James A. H. Murray sent letters to various people, asking their opinion about the differences between the variants gray and grey.

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Gray matter, part 3, or, going from dogs to cats and ghosts

By Anatoly Liberman
The shades of gray multiply (as promised in December 2013). Now that we know that greyhounds are not gray, we have to look at our other character, grimalkin. What bothers me is not so much the cat’s color or the witch’s disposition as the unsatisfactory state of etymology.

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Gray matter, part 2, or, going to the dogs again

By Anatoly Liberman
I am returning to greyhound, a word whose origin has been discussed with rare dedication and relatively meager results. The component –hound is the generic word for “dog” everywhere in Germanic, except English. I am aware of only one attempt to identify –hound with hunter (so in in the 1688 dictionary by Rúnolfur Jónsson).

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Gray matter, or many more shades of grey/gray, part 1

By Anatoly Liberman
One day the great god Thor was traveling and found himself in a remote kingdom whose ruler humiliated him and his companions in every possible way. Much to his surprise and irritation, Thor discovered that he was a poor drinker, a poor wrestler, and too weak to pick up a cat from the floor. To be sure, his host, a cunning illusionist, tricked him.

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Religious displays and the gray area between church and state

By Rebecca Sager and Keith Gunnar Bentele
This August marks the 10-year anniversary of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s suspension for refusing to comply with a federal court order to remove a display of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Supreme Court building. Judge Moore, rather famously, erected the statue in the middle of the night and created a controversy that stirred up emotions about what role religion should play in our public spaces.

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Thomas Gray and Horace Walpole on Grand Tour, spread news of a papal election, 1739/1740

By Dr. Robert V. McNamee
On Sunday, 29 March 1739, two young men, aspiring authors and student friends from Eton College and Cambridge, departed Dover for the Continent. The twenty-two year old Horace Walpole, 4th earl of Orford (1717–1797), was setting out on his turn at the Grand Tour. Accompanying him on the journey, which would take them through France to Italy, was Thomas Gray (1716–1771), future author of the “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”.

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On taste and morality: from William Hogarth to Grayson Perry

By Helen Berry
The artist Grayson Perry recently completed a cycle of six giant tapestries, The Vanity of Small Differences, inspired by William Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress. In the Turner Prizewinner’s modern rendition, Tim Rakewell (like his Georgian counterpart Tom Rakewell) undergoes a social transformation from humble origins to landed gentry. In Perry’s version, Tim’s life course is transformed by university education and a self-made fortune in computers – which catapults him socially from his humble origins in a Northern council house, via the bourgeois confines of middle-class dinner tables, to owning his own country estate.

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Obama: Graying, but None the Wiser

By Elvin Lim
President Barack Obama’s second Oval Office address to the nation wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the game-changer to his declining approval ratings which despondent Democrats were hoping for. The speech was a valiant attempt to connect Iraq with unemployment (guns with butter), but it came off to many as meandering and confused.

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Kids, race and dangerous jokes

I wish that everything my children will hear about race at school will be salutary, but you and I know it won’t. Their peers will expose them to a panoply of false stereotypes and harmful ideas about race, and much of that misinformation will be shared in the guise of humor.

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Fink, a police informer

Specialists and amateurs have long discussed fink, and the main purpose of today’s post is to tell those who are not versed in etymology what it takes to study the origin of an even recent piece of slang and come away almost empty-handed.

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American Exchanges: Third Reich’s Elite Schools

In the summer of 1935, an exchange programme between leading American academies and German schools, set up by the International Schoolboy Fellowship (ISF), was hijacked by the Nazi government. The organization had been set up in 1927 by Walter Huston Lillard, the principal of Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts. Its aim was to foster better relations between all nations through the medium of schoolboy exchange.

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

Rhetorical “um”

“Uh” and “um” don’t get much respect. What even are they? Toastmasters International calls them “crutch words.”

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A four-forked etymology: curfew

It appears that the etymology of curfew has been solved. In any case, all modern dictionaries say the same. The English word surfaced in texts in the early fourteenth century, but a signal to people to extinguish their fires is much older.

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