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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

From the ridiculous to the sublime: from “monkey” to “elephant”

Recently I have reread August Pott’s essay on the word “elephant” and decided to write something about this word. I have nothing original to say about it and depend on two works: an excellent book in Italian and a detailed essay in English. Not everybody may have read them; hence my inroad on this convoluted problem.

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Choreomania: Dance and Disorder

Dance “crazes” and plagues: a precedented phenomenon

Lockdown raves, dodging people in the street, no more hugs, confinement within the home worthy of house arrest—and the language of self-isolation, shelter, safety… all the makings of a sci-fi horror film depicting the world at an end. Or a history book, which is what this pandemic has felt like to me at times, having spent well over a decade thinking about historical epidemiology, specifically in relation to ideas about dance.

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America's Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794-1911

The Bible and American history

The recent American presidency illustrates why Scripture has been both a polarizing and a constructive force in the nation’s history. On 1 June 2020, Donald Trump made an overtly political point when he cleared peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square, who were protesting police violence against unarmed Black men, so that he could pose for a […]

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On buying and selling

Strange as it may seem, the origin of the verb buy remains a matter of uninspiring debate, at least partly because we don’t know what this verb meant before it acquired the modern sense.

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Contraction distraction

A few years ago, a student dropped a linguistics course I was teaching because the textbook used contractions. The student had done some editorial work and felt that contractions did not belong in a college textbook, much less one he was paying 50 dollars for. It was probably all for the best. If he didn’t like contractions, he probably would’ve hated the course. 

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Sportin' Life

Three times systemic racism hindered Buck and Bubbles’s show business career

Since George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020, social justice activists have targeted systemic racism in housing, education, and law enforcement. Less attention has been paid to entertainment. As the recent controversy over racial bias in the Academy Awards suggests, however, this problem has always existed in show business. The career of legendary vaudeville team Buck and Bubbles shows how it worked.

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French History

What is the French presidential election about? [Long read]

The upcoming French presidential election presents something of a paradox. On the one hand, the outcome seems a foregone conclusion with Macron on course for re-election. But while such an overwhelming electoral narrative could easily be interpreted as a mere continuation of the status quo, nothing could be further from the truth.

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Ecosystem-based fisheries management

A more holistic approach to fisheries management: including all the players

EBFM is rapidly becoming the default approach in global fisheries management, with the clarity of its definition and approaches for its implementation sharpening each year in US and international jurisdictions. The challenge is to objectively and quantitatively ascertain progress towards EBFM, and ensure wide-ranging applicability of the findings.

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Osteological folklore: “bonfire”

My today’s word is bonfire, which turned up in texts at the end of the fifteenth century. Seven years ago, I devoted a post to it but today I know more about this tricky compound and can write the story in a different way.

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The neuroscience of consciousness by the Oxford Comment podcast

Women’s economic empowerment, past and future [podcast]

In the western world, discussions about the gender pay gap have dominated discussions for the last few decades, but the issues around the economic status of women, and women’s roles in the workforce are far more nuanced, incorporating issues of race, class, consumerism, and ongoing shifts in the legal status of women in subtle and often invisible ways.

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