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Smartphones are pacifiers for tough times

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated consumers’ reliance on new technologies in almost all aspects of their lives, from how they shop, to how they work, to how they communicate with colleagues and loved ones. While a number of technologies have played an important role in this transformation—such as the growth of reliance on video conferencing—among […]

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Five things to know about F. Scott Fitzgerald

Synonymous with the Jazz Age of the American 1920s which his novels did so much to define, F. Scott Fitzgerald hardly needs any introduction. Reading The Great Gatsby in school has become as much a rite of passage as first kisses and the furtive adolescent rebellion of drinking alcohol before coming of age. Much of […]

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Dry and thirsty, part 2: “dry”

The beginning of this story appeared a week ago, on July 15, 2020 (Cut and dried, Part 2), and we found out that the Old Germanic languages had two words for “dry”: thur-s- (from which Modern English has the noun thirst; thor-s is the Gothic form) and dreag-, the parent of dry. Seeing how concrete and unambiguous the idea of dryness is, we wondered why Germanic needed two synonyms for this word.

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Cut and dried, part 2: “dry”

The murky history of the verb cut was discussed two weeks ago (June 24, 2020). Now the turn of dry has come around. When people ask questions about the origin of any word, they want to know why a certain combination of sounds means what it does. Why cut, big, den, and so forth?

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How to listen when debating

Those Americans who call themselves Republicans are disinclined to take seriously the views of those Americans who vote for the Democrats; and those Democrats will rarely see merit in the views of Republicans. Few Israelis will give ear to the cause of the Palestinians; and few prisoners in Gaza will defend the right of the […]

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Five tips for clear writing

Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth century mathematician and philosopher, once apologised for the length of a letter, saying that he had not had time to write a shorter one.  All of us face situations where we need to compress much information into little space. Perhaps we have to fill in an online form with a character limit or write a cover letter for […]

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Etymology gleanings for June 2020

Response to some comments: The verb cut. The Middle Dutch, Dutch, and Low German examples (see the post for July 1, 2020) are illuminating. Perhaps we are dealing with a coincidence, because such monosyllabic verbs are easy to coin, especially if they are in at least some way expressive.

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Is motion an illusion of the senses?

According to Aristotle, Zeno of Elea (ca. 490 – ca. 430 BCE) said, “Nothing moves because what is traveling must first reach the half-way point before it reaches the end.” One interpretation of the paradox is this. To begin a trip of a certain distance (say 1 meter), a traveler must travel the first half of it (the first 1/2 m), but before he does that he must travel half of the first half (1/4 m), and in fact half of that (1/8 m), ad infinitum.

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Cut and dried

A less common synonym of the idiom cut and dried is cut and dry, and it would have served my purpose better, because this essay is about the verb cut, and two weeks later the adjective dry will be the subject of a post. But let us stay with the better-known variant.

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Five questions about PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an often discussed, and often misunderstood, mental health condition, that affects up to 7% of adults during their lifetime. Here we answer five questions related to misconceptions that often prevent people from seeking care.  1. Is PTSD a veteran disease?  While a significant minority of veterans suffer from PTSD, this disorder can impact anyone who has experienced life-threatening trauma. Approximately 70% of people […]

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The blunt edge of “knife”

The word knife came up in one of the recent comments. I have spent so much time discussing sharp objects (adz, ax, and sword) that one more will fit in quite naturally. The word that interests us today turned up in late Old English (cnīf) and is usually believed to be a borrowing of Old Norse knífr (both ī and í designate a long vowel, as in Modern Engl. knee)

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Eat your oats

Old Fashioned, quick, instant and steel cut are all examples of oat varieties. Is one type of oat more nutritious than the other? No. All varieties of oats provide similar amounts of nutrients, calories, and fiber; a nutrient that is chronically underconsumed in the United States. Oats are an example of a whole-grain and full […]

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Etymology gleanings for May 2020

I promised not to return to Spelling Reform and will be true to my word. The animated discussion of a month ago (see the comments following the April gleanings) is instructive, and I’ll only inform the contributors to that exchange that nothing they wrote is new. It is useful to know the history of the problem being discussed, for what is the point of shooting arrows into the air?

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The life of Charles Dickens [timeline]

Charles Dickens is credited with creating some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is widely regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian age. Even before reading the works of Dickens many people have met him already in some form or another. Today marks the 150th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ death and to commemorate his life we created a short timeline showcasing […]

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How paternity leave can help couples stay together

The birth of a child is accompanied by many changes in a couple’s life. The first few weeks and months are a time of acquiring new skills and creating new habits which allow parents to carry on with their other responsibilities while also caring for the new family member. Many decisions need to be made: […]

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