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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Secrets of the comma

When it comes to punctuation, I’m a lumper rather than a splitter. Some nights I lie awake, pondering to secrets of commas, dashes, parentheses, and more, looking for grand patterns.

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Breaking the rules of grammar

Can grammar be glamorous? Due to its meticulous nature, the study of grammar has been saddled with an undeserved intimidating reputation. Esteemed linguist David explains how grammar is an essential tool for communication. Demystifying the rules behind the English language can allow us to communicate effectively both professionally and casually. In the following excerpt from […]

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Etymology gleanings for July 2017

First of all, I would like to thank our readers for their good wishes in connection with the 600th issue of The Oxford Etymologist, for their comments, and suggestions. In more than ten years, I must have gone a-gleaning about 120 times.

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Two numerals: “six” and “hundred,” part 2: “hundred”

Like the history of some other words denoting numbers, the history of hundred is full of sticks and stones. To begin with, we notice that hundred, like dozen, thousand, million, and billion, is a noun rather than a numeral and requires an article (compare six people versus a hundred people); it also has a regular plural (a numeral, to have the plural form, has to be turned into a noun, or substantivized, as in twos and threes, at sixes and sevens, on all fours, and the like).

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Two numerals: “six” and “hundred,” part 1

The reason for such a strange topic will become clear right away. The present post is No. 600 in the career of “The Oxford Etymologist.” I wrote my first essay in early March 2006 and since that time have not missed a single Wednesday.

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Boasting and bragging

No one likes boasters. People are expected to be modest (especially when they have nothing to show). For that reason, the verbs meaning “to boast” are usually “low” or slangy (disparaging) and give etymologists grief and sufficient reason to be modest.

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How to write about theatre performances

It’s the theatre season in my town of Ashland, Oregon, and I’m keeping up with the play reviews and talking with reviewers about what makes a good review. Reviewing a play is different than reviewing a book or even a film.

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Mid-June etymology gleanings

John Cowan pointed out that queer “quaint, odd” can be and is still used today despite its latest (predominant) sense. Yes, I know. Quite intentionally, I sometimes use the phrase queer smile. It usually arouses a few embarrassed grins. My students assume that a man in the winter of his days is so un-cool that he does not know what this adjective now means.

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English idioms and The British Apollo

In 1708, London witnessed the appearance of The British Apollo, or Curious Amusements for the INGENIOUS. To which are Added the most Material Occurrences Foreign and Domestick. Perform’d by a Society of GENTLEMEN. VOL. I. Printed for the Authors, by F. Mayo, at the Printing-Press, against Water-Lane in Fleet-Street.

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How to use repetition

A couple times a week, I hear someone remark “It is what it is,” accompanied by a weary sigh. I always puzzle over the expression a little bit, thinking What else could it be?

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Of dogs, apes, and humans

It’s the late afternoon and you are in the kitchen, idly beginning to think about dinner, at the end of a long day at work. Suddenly the peace is shattered by the noisy entrance of your dog and your son. Your dog sits by his empty bowl and looks at you with beseeching eyes. If he thinks that you’re not reacting quickly enough, he may produce a single attention-grabbing bark.

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Monthly gleanings for April 2017

The previous post on Nostratic linguistics was also part of the “gleanings,” because the inspiration for it came from a query, but a few more tidbits have to be taken care of before summer sets in.

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The unprecedented difficulty of B(e)

A dictionary is in indeed a collection of stories and each word entry has a unique tale to tell. If we choose the verb ‘be’, we encounter a special insight into English, and into the society and thought that has shaped it over the past 1,500 years.

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Two posts on “sin”: a sequel

The colleague who wrote me a letter is a specialist in Turkic and a proponent of Nostratic linguistics. He mentioned the Turkic root syn-, which, according to him, can mean “to test, prove; compete; prophesy; observe; body, image, outward appearance,” and wondered whether, within the framework of Nostratic linguistics, this root can be compared with the root of Engl. sin.

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