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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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Twelve books that give context to current protests [reading list]

Cities across the United States have seen ongoing protests since the death of George Floyd while in police custody on 25 May. Conversations are taking place on social media as well as in the real world, and media coverage has been relentless. We at Oxford University Press would like to highlight some of our books across politics, history, and philosophy that we hope can contribute to the important conversations currently taking place and provide valuable context. Where possible, we’ve made some of these books available at no cost for a limited time.

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The history of the word “sword”: Part 2

Last week (May 27, 2020), I discussed two attempts to solve the etymology of sword. The second of them would not have deserved so much attention if Elmar Seebold, the editor of the best-known German etymological dictionary, had not cited it as the only one possibly worthy of attention. His is a minority opinion, which does not mean it is wrong, though I believe it is.

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Returning to the cutting edge: “sword” (Part 1)

Those who have read the posts on awl, ax(e), and adz(e) (March 11, 18, and 25, 2020) will find themselves on familiar ground: once again “origin unknown,” numerous hypotheses, and reference to migratory words. This is not surprising: people learn the names of tools and weapons from the speakers of neighboring nations (tribes), adapt, and domesticate them. Dozens of such names have roots in the remotest prehistory.

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How violent images can hurt us

In January 2020, the world became aware of a novel coronavirus spreading beyond the borders of China. We saw bare supermarket shelves, hastily taped Xs on pavements outside shops, empty streets and parks juxtaposed against overrun emergency wards, the bruised and exhausted faces of healthcare workers and makeshift hospitals and burial grounds amidst what once […]

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How working from home is changing our economy forever

The virus lurks on car door handles, on doorknobs and the floor, on the breath of others or in a friend’s hug, on onions in the supermarket, and on the hands of the valet who parks your car. If you venture outside, everything and everyone is a threat. So, it is better to stay home, […]

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