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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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In Coventry and elsewhere

There is no reason why we should not continue our journey and go to Coventry, a town in Warwickshire, 94 miles away from London. The name was widely known to those who lived through World War II because of the devastating bombing raid on Coventry in November 1940.

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Going places

When one reads the obsolete phrase go to, go to, the meaning is still understood quite well. After to, one “hears” the word hell. However, directions vary, and the origin of the idioms beginning with go to is less trivial than it may seem.

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The last shot at “robin”

What else is there to say about robin? Should I mention the fact that “two Robin Redbreasts built their nest within a hollow tree” and raised a family there?

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A possible humble origin of “robin”

Some syllables seem to do more work than they should. For example, if you look up cob and its phonetic variants (cab ~ cub) in English dictionaries, you will find references to all kinds of big and stout things, round masses (lumps), and “head/top.”

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The robin and the wren

In Surrey (a county bordering London), and not only there, people used to say: “The robin and the wren are God’s cock and hen” (as though the wren were the female of the robin, but then the wren is indeed Jenny). In Wales, the wren is also considered sacred.

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On Robin and robin

“Then the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake scuffled down from the bank and said: ‘My young friend, if you do not now, immediately and instantly, pull as hard as ever you can, it is my opinion that your acquaintance in the large-pattern leather ulster’(and by this he meant the Crocodile) ‘will jerk you into yonder limpid stream before you can say Jack Robinson’.

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The continuing life of science fiction

In 1998 Thomas M. Disch boldly declared in The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World that science fiction had become the main kind of fiction which was commenting on contemporary social reality. As a professional writer, we could object that Disch had a vested interest in making this assertion, but virtually every day news items confirm his argument that SF connects with an amazingly broad range of public issues.

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Will Congress penalize colleges that increase tuition?

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa will serve as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee during the upcoming 115th Congress. Senator Grassley’s decision to lead the Finance Committee may have important consequences for the nation’s colleges and universities.

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A Christmas Carol cover book

A classic christmas dinner with the Cratchits

“There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows!”

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Feeling my oats for the last time this year

Having sown my wild oats (see the post for December 12, 2018), I can now afford the luxury of looking at the origin of the word oat. It would be unfair to introduce the holiday season by discussing a word of unknown etymology. A Christmas carol needs a happy end, and indeed I have something reassuring to say.

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Sowing one’s etymological oats

For many years I have been studying not only the derivation and history of words but also the origin of idioms. No Indo-European forms there, no incompatible vowels, not consonant shifts, but the problems are equally tough.

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Forty years of democratic Spain

Spaniards are celebrating with some fanfare the 40th anniversary of their democratic constitution that was approved overwhelmingly in a referendum on 6 December 1978, sealing the end of the 36-year dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, the victor of the country’s civil war. Whichever way one looks at it, Spain has been transformed profoundly since then.

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Etymology gleanings for November 2018

I used to post my “gleanings” on the last Wednesday of every month, but it is perhaps more practical to do it on the first Wednesday of the month following, for, given this schedule, I can also answer the most recent questions. Plants and the home of the Indo-Europeans I used gorse in the previous […]

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Plato’s mistake

It started innocently enough at a lunch-time event with some friends at the Randolph Hotel in the centre of Oxford. ‘The trouble with Islam …’ began some self-opinioned pundit, and I knew where he was going. Simple. Islam lends itself to fanaticism, and that is why Muslims perpetrate so much violence in the name of religion. The pundit saw himself as Christian, and therefore a man of peace, so I had my cue. ‘Look out of the window. Over there in the fork of the road you see the Martyr’s Memorial. In 1555 the Wars of Religion were in full spate, Catholics were burning Protestants at the stake, Protestants were no less fanatical when their turn came, and things got even worse with the Civil War. So why are Muslims any worse?’

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