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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Monthly gleanings for July 2019

As always, many thanks to those who left comments and to those who sent me emails and asked questions. Rather long ago, I wrote four posts on the etymology and use of the word brown (see the posts for September 24, October 1, October 15, and October 22, 2014). The origin of the animal name beaver was mentioned in them too. Here I’ll say what I know about the subject.

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George R. Terry Book Award winners – past and present

The George R. Terry Book Award is awarded to the book that has made the most outstanding contribution to the global advancement of management knowledge. The prize is presented at the Academy of Management’s annual conference, and we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate our authors on this prestigious achievement. To celebrate, we will be revisiting the work of our winners and finalist in the past and present.

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Why British communities are stronger than ever

Although it’s fashionable to bemoan the collapse of traditional communities in Britain and the consequent loss of what social scientists have come to call “social capital”, we should be wary of accepting this bold story at face value.

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Mangling etymology: an exercise in “words and things”

We read that Helgi, one of the greatest heroes of Old Norse poetry, sneaked, disguised as a bondmaid, into the palace of his father’s murderer and applied himself to a grindstone, but so bright or piercing were his eyes (a telltale sign of noble birth, according to the views of the medieval Scandinavians) that even a man called Blind (!) became suspicious.

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Idioms: the American heritage

Idioms, especially if we add proverbs and familiar quotations to them, are a shoreless ocean. Especially numerous are so-called gnomic sayings (aphorisms) like make hay while the sun shines, better safe than sorry, and a friend in need is a friend indeed. Their age is usually hard or even impossible to determine. Since most of them reflect people’s universal experience, they may be very old.

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A forgotten African satirist: A.B.C. Merriman-Labor

In 1904, twenty-six-year-old A.B.C. Merriman-Labor stamped the red dust of Freetown’s streets from his shoes and headed for London. There he intended to prove his literary skill to the world. The Sierra Leone Weekly News had assured him that his color would no obstacle there, and he could “go anywhere, wherever his merits, either intellectual or social, will take him.”

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The evolution of the book to the digital page

Ever the early-adopter, I recently bought myself a Kindle. The e-reader is now available in a variety of models pitched at a variety of price points. Mine is called a Paperwhite. The name, like much about the digital reading experience, looks to elide the gap between reading on paper and reading on a plastic screen.

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Standing in Galileo’s shadow: Why Thomas Harriot should take his place in the scientific hall of fame

The enigmatic Elizabethan Thomas Harriot never published his scientific work, so it’s no wonder that few people have heard of him. His manuscripts were lost for centuries, and it’s only in the past few decades that scholars have managed to trawl through the thousands of quill-penned pages he left behind. What they found is astonishing—a glimpse into one of the best scientific minds of his day, at a time when modern science was struggling to emerge from its medieval cocoon.

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From rabbits to gonorrhea: “clap” and its kin

Three years ago, I discussed the origin of several kl– formations, all of which were sound-symbolic: kl- appeared to suggest cleaving, cluttering, and the like. In this context, especially revealing is the etymology of cloth. The problem with such consonant groups is that there is rarely anything intrinsically symbolic in them.

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How technology is changing reproduction and the law

Millions of Americans rely on the likes of birth control, IVF, and genetic testing to make plans as intimate and far-reaching as any they ever make. This is no less than the medicine of miracles. It fills empty cradles, frees families from terrible disease, and empowers them to fashion their lives on their own terms.

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Etymology gleanings for June 2019

Like every journalist (and a blogger is a journalist of sorts), I have an archive. Sometimes I look through the discarded clippings and handwritten notes and find them too good to throw away. Below, I’ll reproduce a few rescued tidbits.

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#MeToo and Mental Health: Gender Parity in the Field of Psychiatry

Psychiatry is not the only space in which women are silenced or burdened, but as a discipline it’s one lens through which we can analyse a larger phenomenon. Now more than ever, it’s essential to discuss, in real time, women’s experiences as health professionals and as patients in mental health services.

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