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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Etymology gleanings for July 2020

Thanks everybody for the questions, comments, and suggestions!

The state of Spelling Reform

The six most promising schemes of reformed spelling, with summaries, can be found on the Society’s website (The English Spelling Society). The second (virtual) session of the International English Spelling Congress will probably take place in November. If you are interested in the fate of Spelling Reform, please register (it is free).

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Nine titles on the frontiers of psychology research [reading list]

What is the responsibility of psychologists to their clients and their communities during times of crisis? Annually, the American Psychological Association meets to present the research and best practices to meet the needs of the profession and the broader world.  These nine new titles present the latest, most advanced research to create a bridge between […]

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The ethics of exploiting hope during a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had enormous negative effects on people around the globe, including death and long-term health impacts, economic hardships including loss of savings, businesses, and careers, and the emotional costs of physical separation from friends and loved ones. Since the first emergence of COVID-19, people have hoped that these harms could be contained […]

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Conjunction dysfunction

Everyone of a certain age remembers the FANBOYS of Conjunction Junction fame: for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so.  In the lyrics of the 1973 song, we mostly hear about and, but and or with a brief mention of or’s pessimistic cousin nor.  A conjunction’s function is to “hook up words and phrase and clauses” […]

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Progressive American Christianity fosters racism

Theologian and priest Kelly Brown Douglas begins her book, What’s Faith Got To Do With It, with this question: if Christianity has been used for centuries to oppress black people, “Was there not something wrong with Christianity itself?” In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, many Christian leaders took to the streets in solidarity with […]

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Forgotten Danish philosopher K E. Løgstrup

Very little attention has been paid to Danish philosopher Knud Ejler Løgstrup in the English-speaking word until recently. His philosophical interests focused on three strains in particular: ethics, phenomenology, and theological philosophy. He studied theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1923 until 1930, though was inclined towards the philosophical aspects of the subject. He […]

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What we can learn from ancient Greeks about tyranny

In their brand-new democracy, the people of ancient Athens knew there was one form of government they never wanted to suffer through again: tyranny. But they loved to see plays depicting tyrants on stage. These rulers typically do not listen to advice or expert opinion. But authority figures who don’t listen don’t learn; they make […]

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The technocratic politics of the American right

Conservatives today often present themselves as populists running against a left said to be out of touch with the common people and enamored of technocratic rule by experts. This is, in fact, a longstanding critique found not only in grassroots ideological discourse but also in the work of conservative philosophers like Michael Oakeshott, who suggested that the left was […]

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What we can learn from tragedy

June 2020 marked the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster, when 72 people died as a result of a fire in a block of flats in one of the poorest parts of the richest parts of London. Before and since the fire, in recent years the United Kingdom’s most marginalised and vulnerable communities have […]

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Exploring hypothetical thinking

What is hypothetical thinking? We do it continually. Consider making a decision, from choosing what to eat to choosing what to do about a dangerous disease. In deciding between options, you have to consider each of them, working out what’s likely to happen if  you take it, then compare the results. A natural human way to […]

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“Scram” and its ungainly kin

On April 18, 2012, while discussing the etymology of shrimp, I wrote that I had once looked up the word scrumptious, to find out its origin. Much to my surprise, I read that scrumptious is perhaps sumptuous, with -cr- added for emphasis. On May 2, 2012, I attacked shrew. My romance with shr- ~ scr-words abated, but I never forgot it. Today, I’ll continue those two stories and again look at shr- and scr-.

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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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It’s cheaper to preserve the Amazon than we might think

“The cattle need ladders to graze here.” That is what my wife’s relatives used to tell her after they moved to the Amazon rainforest. She visited their farm when she was 13, and the planted grass was taller than she was. Grass grows tall there because of the substantial amount of nutrients left on the […]

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How water conflicts hurt marginalized populations

There are 286 international transboundary river basins that are shared by 151 countries. These basins are the source for water as well as livelihoods to 2.8 billion people. In many of these places the already vulnerable and marginalised are at great risk due to problems managing water. Sudden, sharp changes in these basins are not […]

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Writing a non-fiction historical thriller

The distinguished biographer, Ben Pimlott, used to say that historians should try to write like novelists. To my knowledge, he never developed the thought, but what he meant was clear. While the historical monograph may make a significant contribution to knowledge, too often it is boring to read. He wanted us to deploy the skills […]

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