Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

A fresh look at clichés

Recently a friend gave me a copy of It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Clichés by lexicographer Orin Hargraves. I was intrigued to read it because I had been wondering about clichés for some time.

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Is there a comma after BUT?

According to editors and grammarians, there is no comma after the word but at the beginning of a sentence. But it is something I see a lot in sentences like “But, there were too many of them to count” or “But, we were afraid the situation would get worse.”

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Hamburger semantics

The students in my class were arguing a question of semantics: is a hamburger a sandwich? One student noted that the menu designer at the restaurant where she worked couldn’t decide if a Chicken Burger should be listed under Hamburgers or Sandwiches.

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Where to put hyphens

After reading a draft of something by a colleague, I asked her how she decides when to use hyphens. She responded tartly: “Hyphens. You mean like in well-spoken, or half-assed? I’m not sure. I don’t care for them.” Personally, I’m a big fan of hyphens and sarcasm won’t deter me. Personally, I’m a big fan of hyphens and sarcasm won’t deter me.

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“Fitting in” in the global workplace

With ever-increasing global mobility, today’s workers often find themselves struggling to get along in workplace cultures different from their native norms. Many disciplines, from managerial sciences to linguistics to education, have a vested interest in understanding and addressing these challenges. Research focuses on how international workers adapt to new environments and how local workers accommodate foreign colleagues.

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How to write a biography

This year I’ve been reading a lot of biographies and writing some short profile pieces. Both experiences have caused me to reflect back on a book-length biography I wrote a few years ago on the little-known educator Sherwin Cody. Writing a book-length biography was a new experience for me at the time. I learned a lot along the way. Here are a few tips based on my experience.

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Numbers and historical linguistics: a match made in heaven?

Whatever you associate with the term “historical linguistics,” chances are that it will not be numbers or computer algorithms. This would perhaps not be surprising were it not for the fact that linguistics in general has seen increasing use of exactly such quantitative methods. Historical linguistics tends to use statistical testing and quantitative arguments less than linguistics generally. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

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How deaf education and artificial language were linked in the 17th century

Before the 1550s, it was generally believed that people who are born deaf are incapable of learning a natural language such as Spanish or English. This belief was nourished by the observation that hearing children normally acquire their speaking skills without explicit instruction, and that learning to read usually proceeds by first connecting individual letters to individual speech sounds, pronouncing them one by one, before a whole word is read and understood.

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French Anglicisms: An ever-changing linguistic case

English loanwords have been pushing their way into languages worldwide at an increasing rate, but no language has a history of national resistance as staunch as French. In France where language is an affair of state, opposition to Anglicisms, fronted by the Académie française, is explicitly linguistic (Anglicisms are superfluous and faddish items which must be replaced by French words) and implicitly political (Anglicisms are imports from the hegemonic United States, and the donor status of English exists at the expense of French).

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Putting modifiers in their place

Sometimes I misplace things—my sunglasses, a book I’m reading, keys, my phone. Sometimes I misplace words in sentences too, leaving a clause or a phrase where it doesn’t belong. The result is what grammarians call misplaced or dangling modifiers. It’s a sentence fault that textbooks sometimes illustrate with over-the-top examples like these.

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Translanguaging and Code-Switching: what’s the difference?

One of the most frequently asked questions after a presentation on Translanguaging has been, what’s the difference between Code-Switching and Translanguaging? In fact, I have had members of the audience and students come up to me with transcripts of speech or writing that involve multiple named languages and ask: “Is this Code-Switching or Translanguaging?”

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How to write anything

“I’m going to make a lot of money, and I’ll hire someone to do all my writing for me.” That was the rationale offered by a student many years ago for why he should not have to take a required writing course. A snarky comment crossed my mind, but instead I mentioned to him that if he had to hire someone to ghostwrite everything he would have to write in his life, it could cost him a small fortune.

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The Quotable Guide to Punctuation Quiz Part Two

Correct punctuation is vital for clear, accurate, and natural writing. Anyone preparing a course assignment, applying for a job or for college admission, or doing any other formal writing needs to know the standard conventions of punctuation. Do you consider yourself a punctuation expert? Do you know the differences between parentheses and square brackets? Test your knowledge with this quiz.

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The language of strategic planning

My university just completed a round of strategic planning, its periodic cycle of self-evaluation, redefinition, and goal setting. Many of my colleagues were excited about the opportunity to define the future. Others were somewhat jaded, seeing such plans as bookshelf documents to be endured until the next planning cycle. Still others were agnostics, happy to see us have a good strategic plan but determined not to let it get in their way.

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