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Is there a comma after BUT?

According to editors and grammarians, there is no comma after the word but at the beginning of a sentence. But it is something I see a lot in sentences like “But, there were too many of them to count” or “But, we were afraid the situation would get worse.”

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Etymology gleanings for September 2018

Many thanks to those who have commented on the recent posts and written me privately. My expertise is in Germanic, with occasional timid inroads into the rest of Indo-European. Therefore, I cannot answer questions about Arabic and Chinese. Below, I’ll say something about Hittite, but, obviously, for my information I depend on the authority of others.

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Thoughts on the origin of the word “bride” [Part I]

The blog named “The Oxford Etymologist,” which started on March 1, 2008, and which appears every Wednesday, rain or shine (this is Post no. 663), owes many of its topics to association. Some time ago, I wrote about the puzzling Gothic verb liugan “to lie, tell falsehoods” and “to marry” (August 15, 2018) and about the etymology of the English verb bless (October 12, 2016).

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This Side of Paradise —Looking Back, A Century Later

“He fancied that in a hundred years he would like having young people speculate on whether his eyes were brown or blue.” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote these words in This Side of Paradise approximately a hundred years ago. While speculation on the eye color of Amory Blaine, Fitzgerald’s protagonist, may not currently be top of mind, the author himself, as well as his debut novel, most assuredly are.

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Does TCJA Tax Churches? Should It?

Does the new federal tax law, commonly known as the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA), tax churches as some have argued? If so, is this tax appropriate? The answers are “yes” and “yes.” The TCJA provisions taxing qualified transportation fringes treat secular and religious employers alike, including houses of worship. In a world of […]

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Blood is thicker than water

Not too long ago (12 October 2016), I wrote a post about the etymology of the verb bless and decided that my next topic would be blood, because bless and blood meet, even if in an obscure way. But more pressing business—the origin of liver (21 March 2018) and kidney (11 April 2018)—prevented me from meeting that self-imposed deadline.  Today, Dracula-like, I am ready to tackle blood.

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Table talk: How do you pay your dues?

To find out how you pay your dues, you have to read the whole post. It would be silly to begin with the culmination. The story will be about phonetics and table talk (first about phonetics).

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Hamburger semantics

The students in my class were arguing a question of semantics: is a hamburger a sandwich? One student noted that the menu designer at the restaurant where she worked couldn’t decide if a Chicken Burger should be listed under Hamburgers or Sandwiches.

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Etymology gleanings for August 2018

In a jiffy: Stephen Goranson has offered several citations of this idiom (it means “in a trice”), possibly pointing to its origin in sailor slang. English is full of phrases that go back to the language of sailors, some of which, like tell it to the marines, by and large, and the cut of one’s jib (to cite a few), are well-known.

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The shortest history of hatred continued and partly concluded

As a matter of fact, it is a long story, because the distant origin of hate—the word, not the feeling—is far from clear. As usual, we should try to determine the earliest meaning of our word (for it may be different from the one we know) and search for the cognates in and outside Germanic. At the beginning of the month (see the post for 1 August 2018), a good deal was said about the Gothic language.

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The multifaceted art of lying

In 1882, Mark Twain gave a short speech titled “On the Decay of the Art of Lying,” not his best or wittiest. I assume that Oscar Wilde did not miss the published text of that speech, for seven years later, he brought out  a kind of treatise in the form of a dialogue with a similar title, namely, “The Decay of Lying—An Observation,” one of his most powerful and brilliant (as always, too brilliant) essays.  

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Editing The Scarlet Pimpernel

Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) is one of those popular novels that we tend to assume we already know without having read it. This tale of the French Revolution has been adapted many, many times, for the stage, small and large screens, and radio, and it has been frequently parodied over the decades, most famously, perhaps, by the Carry On team with Don’t Lose Your Head (aka Carry on Pimpernel).

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The ever-evolving US Supreme Court

Justice Byron R. White, who served on the Supreme Court for 31 years (1962-1993), once observed that every time a new justice joins the court, it’s a new court. His observation may sound counter-intuitive: after all, a new justice joins eight incumbents. Can a single new member make such a difference?

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The shortest history of hatred: Part 1

It would be unwise to leave the topic of emotions (see the posts on anger, dread, and fear), without saying something about hate and hatred. Although hate refers to intense dislike, it is curious to observe how diluted the word has become: today we can hate orange juice, a noisy neighbor, even our own close relative, and of course we hate not finding the objects we have mislaid. For some reason, to dislike, have little regard for, and resent are not enough for expressing our dissatisfaction.

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Understanding academic impact: fear and failure, stealth and seeds

Failure is an unavoidable element of any academic career. For all but a small number of ‘superstar über-scholars’, most of the research papers we submit will be rejected, our most innovative book proposals will be politely rebuffed and our applications for grants, prizes and fellowships will fall foul of good fortune.

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