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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Feeling fingers, part 2

Finger seems to be a transparent word, but this transparency is an illusion, for what is fing- (assuming that we understand what -er is)? Our story began last week (see the post for September 25, 2019), and I attempted to show that one of the two best-known etymologies of finger, namely, from the numeral five, is “less than fully convincing” (a common academic euphemism for “nearly unacceptable”).

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Feeling fingers

This will be a story of both protagonists mentioned in the title: the verb feel and the noun finger. However, it may be more profitable to begin with finger. In the year 2000, Ari Hoptman brought out an article on the origin of this word (NOWELE 36, 77-91). Although missed by the later dictionaries, it contains not only an exhaustive survey of everything ever said about the etymology of finger but also a reasonable conjecture, differing from those he had found in his sources, both published and unpublished.

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(Sweet and) sour

Last week (September 11, 2019), I discussed the origin of sweet and promised to tackle its partial opposite. Sour has been attested in nearly all the Old Germanic languages: nearly, because, like sweet, it never turned up in the Gothic gospels.

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Sweet (and sour)

The post on the origin of the word smell has been read by more people than any other in recent months. On the wave of this unexpected popularity, I decided to write an essay or two on related themes. If they arouse enough interest, I may continue in the same vein.

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Understanding the Multi-functional Nature of the Countryside

It is tempting to see the countryside through a haze of a pink washed nostalgia as somewhere where life continues with a perceived simplicity in tandem with the seasons and inherited practises. However, just as urban areas change and evolve, so does the countryside. With this, comes a more complex wordscape that combines the traditional language of […]

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The last shot at American Idioms

The use of metaphors is relatively late in the modern European languages; it is, in principle, a post-Renaissance phenomenon. The same holds for the idioms based on metaphors. No one in the days of Beowulf and perhaps even of Chaucer would have coined the phrase to lose one’s marbles “to become insane,” even if so long ago boys were as intent on collecting marbles as was Tom Sawyer.

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Celebrating banned books week

Book banning is not a new phenomenon. The Catholic Church’s prohibition on books advocating heliocentrism lasted until 1758. In England, Thomas Bowdler lent his name to the practice of expurgating supposed vulgarity with the 1818 publication of The Family Shakespeare, edited by his sister.

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The sense and essence of smell

This post owes its existence to a letter from our correspondent, who was surprised to discover that dictionaries call the origin of the word smell unknown. Not that two and a half pages later this origin will become “known,” but the darkness around it may become less impenetrable.

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Flatterers and bletherskites

Almost exactly twelve years ago, on August 2, 2006 (see this post), when the world and this blog were much younger, I mentioned some problems pertaining to the etymology of the verb flatter. Since that time, I have written several posts on kl– and sl-words and discussed sound symbolism more than once. There is little […]

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Racial biases in academic knowledge

The word of racism evokes individual expressions of racial prejudice or one’s superiority over other races. An outrageous yet archetypical example is found in the recent racist tweets made by the President Donald Trump, attacking four congresswomen of color by suggesting that they go back to the countries where they are originally from if they criticize America. […]

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How to construct palindromes

A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same way forwards and backwards, like kayak or Madam, I’m Adam. The word comes to us from palindromos, made up of a pair of Greek roots: palin (meaning “again”) and dromos (meaning “way, direction”).

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What is the Middle Voice?

Punctuation-wise, most of us fall between these two extremes. We are neither staccato nor breathless. Instead, we use punctuation to establish a comfortable pace for readers by grouping and emphasizing certain chunks of information.

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Using punctuation to pace

Punctuation-wise, most of us fall between these two extremes. We are neither staccato nor breathless. Instead, we use punctuation to establish a comfortable pace for readers by grouping and emphasizing certain chunks of information.

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W(h)ither the five-paragraph essay

I was surprised to learn from my students that many of them are still being taught to write the five-paragraph essay in high school. You know it: an introductory paragraph that begins with a hook and ends in a thesis statement.

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