Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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On nuts and nerds

For decades the English-speaking world has been wondering where the word nerd came from. The Internet is full of excellent essays: the documentation is complete, and all the known hypotheses have been considered, refuted, or cautiously endorsed. I believe one of the proposed etymologies to be convincing (go on reading!), but first let me say something about nut.

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The Iliad and The Trojan War [excerpt]

The Iliad tells the story of Achilles’ anger, but also encompasses, within its narrow focus, the whole of the Trojan War. The title promises “a poem about Ilium” (i.e. Troy), and the poem lives up to that description. The first books recapitulate the origins and early stages of the Trojan War.

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Is science being taken out of environmental protection?

In 1963, dying of breast cancer and wearing a wig to cover the effects of radiation treatments, Rachel Carson appeared before a congressional committee to defend her indictment of pesticides. She had rattled the chemical industry with Silent Spring, which urged caution at a time when Americans were buying dangerous products that the scientific community had itself made possible.

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Why the Supreme Court should overrule Quill

In ‘Quill Corporation v. North Dakota’, the US Supreme Court held that, under the dormant Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, the states cannot require out-of-state vendors to collect sales taxes because such vendors lack physical presence in the taxing state. As internet commerce has grown, Quill’s physical presence test has severely hampered the states’ ability to enforce their sales taxes since the states cannot obligate out-of-state internet firms to collect the taxes attributable to their respective sales.

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Unsilencing the library

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” So wrote Virginia Woolf in her famous 1929 essay on reading and freedom, A Room of One’s Own.

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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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That someone else: finding a new oral history ancestor

Dan Kerr acknowledges in his article, “Allan Nevins Is Not My Grandfather,” that most historians of oral history tend to dismiss the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) as a mere “prehistory” of the field, because the vast majority of FWP interviews were recorded with pen and paper rather than with machine.

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10 facts about fungi

Fungi play an important role for a balanced life of flora, fauna, and humans alike. But are they important for us humans, and how are fungi related to animals? Nicholas P. Money, author of Fungi: A Very Short Introduction, tells us 10 things everyone should know about fungi, and the role they play in the world.

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Deep in the red

Yesterday, the second of August, was Earth Overshoot Day for 2017. This date “marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.” As of today, we carry a planetary-sized debt. We are running in the red. This most horrible of days only started in 1971. Before that, humans did not have the population size nor the technological capacity to ‘out-eat’ our larder.

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The good tax

No one enjoys paying taxes. Remember receiving your first paycheck and discovering how much of your hard-earned money you would be sharing with the government? Most of us recognize that some taxes are necessary. Although economics recognizes the need for taxes to fund the government, it is pretty clear-eyed about the downside of taxes. One example is the tax on cigarettes.

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Optimism in economic development

There is much discussion about global poverty and the billions of people living with almost nothing. Why is it that governments, development banks, think-tanks, academics, NGOs, and many others can’t just fix the problem? Why is it that seemingly obvious reforms never happen? Why are prosperity and equity so elusive?

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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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