Odds and ends: I am delighted to say that in January I received unusually many questions. When this blog came into existence, the idea was that I would be flooded by “notes and queries,” as happens to word columnists who work for newspapers. That is why the last week of every month was reserved for answers. But all these years the traffic has been modest, and sometimes my replies were limited to what I had read in the comments. January and the beginning of February 2018 have been an exception; hence the extended “gleanings.”
I previously wrote about how Scientific English is a specialized form of language used in formal presentations and publications. It is rich in ‘rare’, or extremely low frequency words, and the colocations that define them (i.e. we ‘sequence a genome’ or ‘stretch of ‘DNA’). Learning to comprehend the meaning of such formal language requires considerable exposure and writing it well truly exercises one’s knowledge of the ‘long tail’ of vocabulary.
My most recent post (mad as a hatter) aroused a good deal of criticism. The reason is clear: I did not mention the hypothesis favored in the OED (mercury poisoning). Of course, when I quoted the medical explanation of long ago, I should have written the last set of hypotheses… instead of the last hypothesis. I find all medical explanations of the idiom untenable, and I should have been explicit on this point, rather than hiding behind polite silence.
About every well-known English idiom one can nowadays find so much interesting material on the Internet that almost nothing is left for an ambitious etymologist to add. Mad as a hatter has been discussed especially often, and my detailed database contains nearly nothing new. Yet I decided to join the ranks of the researchers of […]
We caught up with Laura Knowles, who joined Oxford University Press in January 2017 as a Digital Marketing Coordinator with the UK Primary Education division. Since October 2017 she is a Marketing Executive for the Global Online Products team. She talks to us about working on online products, her own experience in publishing, her OUP journey so far, and some of her favourite books.
To a great extent, Jews have realized the promise of Washington’s America. They have been much admired, in no small part because of the belief that they are the progenitors of the biblical spirit on which America was built. It was this recognition that prompted Washington’s successor, John Adams, to declare of the Jews in 1808: “They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth.”
Not too long ago, one of our constant correspondents proposed the etymology of Greek koupí “oar.” I do not know the origin of that word and will probably never know. Koupí did not show up in my most detailed dictionary of Classical Greek, and I suspect that we are dealing with a relative late coinage. By way of compensation, I decided to write something about the origin of Engl. oar and about some other words connected with it.
From time to time I receive questions too long for my monthly gleanings. The same happened last week. A reader wanted to know the origin of the eena, meena (or eenie, meenie) rhyme. Although not much can be said with certainty about this matter, a few facts have been established. The Internet devotes a lot of space to this “jingle.”
2018 will be an interesting year for those concerned about the intersection of taxation and religion. Two important issues – the constitutionality of the parsonage allowance and the future of the Johnson Amendment – are primed for further controversy in the year ahead. Several months ago, Judge Crabb agreed with the FFRF that Section 107(2) is unconstitutional.
Recently I attended a writing retreat for faculty at my university. It was a three-day weekend break from email, grading and meetings. A dozen academic writers from a variety of disciplines gathered under the roof of a spacious rental home near a lake to talk about their projects, share strategies and concerns, and write for long stretches at a time.
Ever since it was realised that the stars are other suns, people have wondered whether any of them are accompanied by planets, or ‘exoplanets’ as we now call them. Speculation along these lines were among the charges that led to Giordano Bruno being burned at the stake in the year 1600. It is only since the 1930s that astronomers seriously thought they had the observational tools to be able to find out.
Each year, National Trivia Day is observed across the United States on 4 January. To celebrate, we cracked open books from our What Everyone Needs to Know series and pulled some facts. From facts about advertising to tidbits about the human brain, put your knowledge and trivia skills to the test by taking our quiz below!
I seldom, if ever, try to be “topical” (I mean the practice of word columnists to keep abreast of the times and discuss the words of the year or comment on some curious expression used by a famous personality), but the calendar has some power over me. The end of the year, the beginning of the year, the rite of spring, the harvest—those do not leave me indifferent.
Thinking is one of the great human abilities. Anyone can do it, anytime, anywhere. One of the best places in the world to be is inside one’s head, thinking. If you love to dwell in thought, perhaps you are made for the academic life. Perhaps you are meant to be a ‘creative’: producing art, music, novels, or some other product of original thought. Perhaps you have the DNA of an engineer, designer, or systems analyst – you enjoy problem solving, the ultimate hard think.
At the end of December, it is natural to look back at the year almost spent. Modern etymology is a slow-moving coach, and great events seldom happen in it. As far as I know, no new etymological dictionaries have appeared in 2017, but one new book has. It deals with the word kibosh, and I celebrated its appearance in the November “Gleanings.”
Although advertising is not new, due to digital technologies people are now attacked with ads every day, 24 hours a day. As more data about us continues to be collected through these digital means, the issues of privacy and surveillance tend to arise. In the following excerpt from Advertising: What Everyone Needs to Know.