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The death of democracy in Stump City

Some might say that in a world that is arguably defined by a complex set of global challenges (think food security, transnational organised crime, antibiotic resistance, sustainable development, etc.) you might think that the fate of a few trees in a post-industrial city in northern England is hardly worth the political equivalent of a raised eyebrow. You would be wrong. From healthy street tree stock to political laughing stock….

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The language of strategic planning

My university just completed a round of strategic planning, its periodic cycle of self-evaluation, redefinition, and goal setting. Many of my colleagues were excited about the opportunity to define the future. Others were somewhat jaded, seeing such plans as bookshelf documents to be endured until the next planning cycle. Still others were agnostics, happy to see us have a good strategic plan but determined not to let it get in their way.

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Etymology gleanings March 2018

One of the questions I received was about dent, indent, and indenture. What do they have in common with dent- “tooth,” as in dental and dentures? Dent, which surfaced in texts in the 13th century, meant “stroke, blow” (a noun; obviously, not a derivative of any Latin word for “tooth”) and has plausibly been explained as a variant of its full synonym or doublet dint.

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Editing Arthur Machen

f the challenges Arthur Machen presents to an editor, two, in particular, have shadowed me during the preparation of this new collection of his stories. The first is simply the special sense of responsibility one feels when curating the work of a deeply loved writer—for even when Machen’s reputation has been at low ebb (as, often enough, it has been), he has always had a hard core of devoted admirers.

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Digging into the innards: “liver”

Etymological bodybuilding is a never-ceasing process. The important thing is to know when to stop, and I’ll stop soon, but a few more exercises may be worth the trouble. Today’s post is about liver. What little can be said about this word has been said many times, so that an overview is all we’ll need. First, as usual, a prologue or, if you prefer, a posy of the ring.

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“Alas, poor YORICK!:” death and the comic novel

Tragedy provokes sorrow and concludes with downfall and death. Comedy elicits laughter and ends happily. Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is one of the funniest novels of world literature. But does the work, overshadowed by death, end happily? Can death and comedy mix? “Everybody dies. If you are going to take that badly, you’re doing it wrong. So you have to take it as a joke.” The sentiments of the celebrated Spanish cartoonist Antonio Fraguas, Forges, who died on 22 February 2018, might echo those of Sterne, whose own death took place 250 years ago on 18 March 1768.

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An exercise in etymological bodybuilding

To an etymologist the names of some organs and body parts pose almost insoluble problems. A quick look at some of them may be of interest to our readers. I think that in the past, I have discussed only the words brain and body (21 February 2007: brain; 14 October 2015: body). Both etymologies are hard, for the words are local: brain has a rather inconspicuous German cognate, and the same holds for body. I risked offering tentative suggestions, which were followed by useful, partly critical comments. As usual, I see no reason to repeat what I said in the past and would like to stress only one idea. Etymologists, when at a loss for a solution, often say that the inscrutable word could enter Indo-European or Germanic, or Romance from some unknown, unrecorded language (such languages are called substrates).

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Women in China, past and present

As we celebrate the lives and accomplishments of women around the world as part of Women’s History Month, we offer a brief look at changing gender roles in different periods of China’s past, and at a group of contemporary activists pushing for greater equality between men and women in the current era. In two excerpts on women from their forthcoming book, China in the 21 Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, Maura Elizabeth Cunningham and Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom place events that have taken place since Xi Jinping took power into a long-term historical perspective.

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What is biblical archaeology? [Extract]

“These were some of the original questions in biblical archaeology that intrigued the earliest pioneers of the field. They still resonate today but are far from being answered.” In the following excerpt from Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction, Eric H. Cline explains the interests of biblical archaeologists, and explores the types of questions that those in the field set out to answer.

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The origin of so long

So long, a formula at parting (“good-bye”) is still in use, unlike mad hatter and sleeveless errand, the subjects of my recent posts, and people sometimes wonder where it came from. I have little of substance to say about the formula’s origin, but, before I say it, I would like to make the point I have made so many times before.

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How to spot ambiguity

Not long ago, a colleague was setting up a meeting and suggested bringing along spouses to socialize after the business was done. Not getting a positive reply, she emailed: “I’m getting a lack of enthusiasm for boring spouses with our meeting.” A minute later, a second, clarifying email arrived indicating that she “meant boring as a verb not an adjective.” She had spotted the ambiguity in the first message.

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Etymology gleanings: February 2018

Everybody’s path to etymology: From time to time I receive questions about etymology as a profession. Not long ago, someone from a faraway country even expressed the wish to get a degree in etymology. I can refer to my post of April 2, 2014. This month, a correspondent asked me to say something about why I became an etymologist. The history of my career cannot be interesting to too many of our readers, so I’ll be brief and rather tell a story.

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Facts about Shakespeare’s sonnets and poems

Of all Shakespeare’s great plays his most frequently published work in his lifetime his erotic poem, Venus and Adonis. Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Poems may often feel less familiar than his plays, but they have also seeped into our cultural history. Within them, they reveal much about the Bard himself and include a number of surprises. Here are a few lesser known facts about Shakespeare’s sonnets and poems.

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An’t please the pigs

My database on please the pigs is poor, but, since a question about it has been asked by an old and faithful correspondent, I’ll say about it what I can. Perhaps our readers will be able to contribute something to the sought-for etymology. When a word turns out to be of undisclosed or hopelessly obscure origin, we take the result more or less in stride, but it comes to many as a surprise to hear that the circumstances surrounding the emergence of an idiom are beyond reconstruction.

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The economic relationship between Mexico and the United States

Mexico and the United States share a highly integrated economic relationship. There seems to be an assumption among many Americans, including officials in the current administration, that the relationship is somehow one-sided, that is, that Mexico is the sole beneficiary of commerce between the two countries. Yet, economic benefits to both countries are extensive.

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