Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

All the president’s tweets

It seems long ago now, but in his victory speech in 2016, Donald Trump promised to unite us as a nation. He finally has, at least around one issue: nearly seven of every ten Americans wish he would stop tweeting from his personal account, including a majority of Republicans. Melania said that she rebukes her husband all the time for his tweets, but she accepts that in the end “he will do what he wants to do.”

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How to spot ambiguity

Not long ago, a colleague was setting up a meeting and suggested bringing along spouses to socialize after the business was done. Not getting a positive reply, she emailed: “I’m getting a lack of enthusiasm for boring spouses with our meeting.” A minute later, a second, clarifying email arrived indicating that she “meant boring as a verb not an adjective.” She had spotted the ambiguity in the first message.

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Zhongguo and Tianxia: the central state and the Chinese world

China is playing an ever-increasing role on the world stage of international relations, and it is starting to bring its own vocabulary to the part. The terminology that comprises the core lexicon of international relations theory originates from Greek and Latin, and it was developed to describe and interpret the configurations of power that have been common in Western history. Chinese scholars are now actively mining the Chinese historical experience to develop new terms to apply both to their own past and to an ever-changing present.

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Beware the thesaurus

Someone recently asked me if I knew another word for entertaining. “What’s the context?” I replied, wondering if the writer was looking for an adjective like enjoyable or interesting or a gerund like wining and dining or possibly even a verb like pondering. “Use it in a sentence.” “Never mind,” she said, “I’ll just use the thesaurus button.” The what?

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Can you pick up the ‘core’ of ten languages in a year?

I previously wrote about how Scientific English is a specialized form of language used in formal presentations and publications. It is rich in ‘rare’, or extremely low frequency words, and the colocations that define them (i.e. we ‘sequence a genome’ or ‘stretch of ‘DNA’). Learning to comprehend the meaning of such formal language requires considerable exposure and writing it well truly exercises one’s knowledge of the ‘long tail’ of vocabulary.

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Catalan language, identity, and independence

The Catalan sovereignty movement came to a head on 1 October 2017 in a beleaguered referendum declared illegal by the Spanish government, which sent in thousands of police and civil guard troops, used force against would-be voters, confiscated ballot boxes, and jailed civic leaders and elected officials on charges of sedition. The political crisis for the Spanish state as well as Catalonia continues.

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English usage guides

My own collection of usage guides. I’ve collected quite a few of them since the start of the Bridging the Unbridgeable project in 2011. The aim of the project is to study usage guides and usage problems in British and American English, as well as attitudes to disputed usages like the split infinitive, the placement of only, the flat adverb, and many more.

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To be or not to ‘be’: 9 ways to use this verb [excerpt]

As short as it is, the verb ‘be’ has a range of meanings and uses that have developed over the last 1,500 years. It is—after ‘the’—the second most frequent word in the English language, and if you’re not afraid to use it, it can help you become a better writer. For National Novel Writing Month, we’ve laid out the various uses of ‘be’, taken from the Story of Be, to help aid you with your writing.

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How to write for an encyclopedia or other reference work

From time to time, many of us will have the opportunity to write for a reference work like an encyclopedia or a handbook. The word encyclopedia has been around for a couple of thousand years and comes from the Greek term for general education. Encyclopedias as general reference books came about in the eighteenth century and the most ubiquitous when I was a student was the Encyclopedia Britannica.

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Engendering communication – Episode 42 – The Oxford Comment

In a constantly changing world, it’s only natural that language continues to evolve as well. Words or phrases that no longer apply are phased out and in their place emerges lexicon that better reflect the diversity of gender, race, and sexuality in contemporary culture. From under-privileged children being taught how to read at home with cookbooks, to groups of students who adopt the use of new words to better explain experiences they see in their own communities

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October etymological gleanings continued

There is a good word aftermath. Aftercrop is also fine, though rare, but, to my regret, afterglean does not exist (in aftermath, math- is related to mow, and -th is a suffix, as in length, breadth, and warmth). Anyway, I sometimes receive letters bypassing OUP’s official address. They deal with etymology and usage.

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Quotes make me shudder

The practice of using punctuation to indicate verbatim speech seems to have had its origins in the diple, a caret-like ancient Greek marking used to call attention to part of a text. By the late 15th century, the diple had been replaced by a pair of inverted commas placed in the left margins to indicate […]

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Power and politeness: key drivers behind profanity and self-censorship [excerpt]

Social conventions determine why we use profane language. The deliberate use (or avoidance) of profanity is often a socially conscious decision: self-censorship may be driven by politeness, while profane language may be used to establish a sense of power. The following shortened excerpt from In Praise of Profanity by Michael Adams takes a look at the connotations behind of profanity and analyzes the social drivers behind its usage.

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Breaking down the Internet’s influence on grammar and punctuation [excerpt]

The Internet has become a key part of modern communication. But how has it influenced language structure? Surprisingly, formal writing remains unchanged. Informal writing, however, has seen an influx of stylistic changes. In the following shortened extract from Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar, renowned linguist David Crystal breaks down the grammatical and syntactical evolution of language in the Internet-era.

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