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1. Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Bae’ sonnets

In continuation of our Word of the Year celebrations and the selection of bae for Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year shortlist, I’m presenting my annual butchering of Shakespeare (previous victims include MacBeth and Hamlet). Of the many terms of endearment the Bard used — from lambkin to mouse — babe was not among them. In the 16th century, babe (which Shakespeare used a great deal) referred to a baby rather than a loved one. So instead, let us see how Shakespeare would address his mistress if he courted her like Pharrell Williams.

Sonnet 130

My bae’s eyes are nothing like the sun,
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go:
My bae when she walks treads on the ground.
    And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
    As any she belied with false compare.

Sonnet 138

When my bae swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearnèd in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue.
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed:
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told.
    Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
    And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

Sonnet 154

The little Love-god lying once asleep
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
Whilst many nymphs, that vowed chaste life to keep,
Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand
The fairest votary took up that fire,
Which many legions of true hearts had warmed,
And so the general of hot desire
Was, sleeping, by a virgin hand disarmed.
This brand she quenched in a cool well by,
Which from love’s fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy
For men diseased; but I, my bae’s thrall,
    Came there for cure, and this by that I prove:
    Love’s fire heats water; water cools not love.

For the original sonnets, plus expert commentary and notes, visit Oxford Scholarly Editions Online: Sonnet 130, Sonnet 138, and Sonnet 154.

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2. Bae in hip hop lyrics

Oxford Dictionaries included bae on its Word of the Year 2014 shortlist, so we invited several experts to comment on the growth of this word in music and language.

Today we’re here to talk about the word bae and the ways in which it’s used in hip hop lyrics. Bae is another way of saying babe or baby (though some say it can also function as an acronym for the phrase “before anyone else”). Here are some examples:

Childish Gambino’s “The Palisades”

In this song, Donald Glover sings “Now why can’t every day be like this…Hang with bae at the beach like this.” Judging from the rest of the lyrics and recent pictures of him with a young woman on the beach, I’d say he’s talking about a girlfriend in this case.

Jay-Z’s “30 Something”

In the chorus of this song, Jay-Z repeats the line, “bae boy, now I’m all grown up”. The overall song reads like an updated version of 1 Corinthians 13:11 (“When I was a child, I talked like a child…When I became a man, I put away childish things”). Here bae seems to be standing in for the word baby, as in baby boy.

Pharrell Williams’ “Come Get It Bae”

The video pretty much makes it crystal clear what the use is here: babe, referring to all the dancing ladies presumably.

Lil Wayne’s “Marvin’s Room (Sorry 4 the Wait)”

Bae shows up right at the end of the track, in the line “She call me ‘baby’ and I call her ‘bae’”. Here it’s clear that Lil Wayne’s bae is an alternate version of her baby.

Fifth Harmony’s “Bo$$”

Ok, I know this is actually pop, but I wanted to include it because it’s so catchy. The overall tone of the lyrics is classic girl power, including the line “I ain’t thirsty for no bae cuz I already know watchu tryna say”. Given the content of the rest of the lyrics, it seems like bae is being substituted for the sense in which babe can refer to boyfriend.

It will be interesting to see what kind of cultural capital bae will accrue in the coming years. Will it thrive, or go the way of flitter-mouse? For more on the many and varied terms of endearment the English language has offered through the ages, check out these unusual terms of endearment in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Headline image credit: Post-Sopa Blackout Party for Wikimedia Foundation staff by Victor Grigas (Victorgrigas). CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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3. Ten facts about cumbia, Colombia’s principal musical style

In celebration of tonight’s Latin Grammy Awards, I delved into Grove Music Online to learn more about distinct musical styles and traditions of Latin American countries. Colombia’s principal musical style is the cumbia, with its related genres porro and vallenato. In the traditional cumbia proper, couples dance in a circle around seated musicians, with the woman shuffling steps while the man moves in a more zigzag pattern around her. The cumbia usually takes place at night while women hold bundles of candles in colored handkerchiefs in their right hands. Although traditional cumbia is now primarily performed by folklore troupes at Carnivals and other festivals, cumbia has contributed significantly to the development of related musical styles. Below are ten interesting facts about the cumbia.

  1. The cumbia is accompanied by one of two ensembles: the conjunto de cumbia (also known as cumbiamba) and the conjunto de gaitas. The former consists of five instruments, while the latter includes two duct flutes, a llamador and a maraca.
  2. The conjunto de cumbia includes one melody instrument called the caña de millo (‘cane of millet’), locally known as the pito, which is a clarinet made of a tube open at both ends with four finger holes near one end and a reed cut from the tube itself at the other end.
  3. Other instruments include the gaita hembra (‘female flute’) and the gaita macho (‘male flute’). While the gaita hembra is used for the melody, the gaita macho provides heterophony in conjunction with a maraca.
  4. The bullerengue and the danza de negro are two other musical genres of the region, which have African characteristics. The bullerengue is an exhibition dance, filled with hip movement, performed by a single couple. Meanwhile, the danza de negro is a special Carnival dance performed by men who paint themselves blue, strip to the waist, dance in a crouched position with wooden swords, and demand money or rum from passerby.
  5. In the early 20th century, town brass bands began adapting the cumbia to a more cosmopolitan style. Between 1905 and 1910, musicians in numerous towns began these adaptations, which were strongly developed in the town of San Pelayo. Thus, the terms pelayera or papayeraare commonly used in reference to this type of ensemble.
  6. Vallenato, a genre related to traditional cumbia, also originated in the Colombian Atlantic region. Performed by an ensemble consisting of accordion, vocals, caja (a small double-headed drum) and guacharaca (a notched gourd scraper), vallenato is similar to cumbia in accenting beats 2 and 4, but places a stronger emphasis on the crotchet-quaver rhythmic cell.
  7. Another style of music related to cumbia is Música tropical, which developed from the dance band arrangements of Afro-Colombian styles during the 1930s and 40s. Música tropical is similar to the ballroom rumba popular throughout the Americas and Europe, although with it maintains a simpler rhythmic base and more florid melodic style.
  8. Música tropical also offered a response to the international vogue for Cuban Music, which was both Caribbean and uniquely Colombian at the same time. By the late 1950s, música tropical had found its way into the leading social clubs and ballrooms of the country.
  9. Throughout the 1960s, música tropical remained the national Colombian style. Recordings by groups like La Sonora Dinamita, Los Corraleros de Majagual and Los Graduados enjoyed a brief national popularity, but had a greater impact outside the country, spreading a simplified form of cumbia to Mexico, Central America, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, where the style became very important.
  10. During the 1940s and 50s the musical pioneers Lucho Bermúdez and Pacho Galán composed and arranged big-band adaptations of cumbias, among other genres, popularizing the sound which became the new national music of Colombia.

Finally, watch a well-known cumbia — La pollera colera:

Headline image credit: Monumento a la cumbia, 2006. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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4. Anxiety in non-human primates

Anxiety disorders adversely affect millions of people and account for substantial morbidity in the United States. Anxiety disrupts an individual’s ability to effectively engage and interact in social and non-social situations. The onset of anxiety disorders may begin at an early age or occur in response to life events. Thus, the effects of anxiety are broad ranging, affecting both family and work dynamics, and may limit an individual’s quality of life.

While there has been a great deal of research focused on anxious behavior and anxiety disorders in the past few decades, there is still much we do not know. In order to better understand anxiety disorders, and to develop novel options for those who are nonresponsive to current treatments, scientists need to investigate the biobehavioral mechanisms that underlie the expression of anxiety related behavior. Research with humans subjects is one strategy used to gain insight on how to effectively treat anxiety disorders. However, there are inherent difficulties with such studies, including complex life histories and differences in access to resources (such as health care), as well as ethical issues. Common physiology between humans and other animals allow for the development of animal models that allow scientists to examine the neurobiological underpinnings of anxiety disorders. The non-human primate (NHP) has been used in the study of anxiety due to the physiological, behavioral and neural commonalities we share.

One type of anxiety assessment in non-human primates relies on direct behavioral observations, either in the animal’s ‘home environment’ or in a situation in which the animal is mildly challenged to induce an anxious state. In these procedures, observers typically look for the presence of behaviors indicative of anxiety, including fear and displacement behaviors (normal behaviors that may occur at seemingly inappropriate times). For example, in certain stressful situations, macaques may pick at their hair, a behavior similar to hair twirling in humans. Importantly anxiolytic drugs that reduce the occurrence of these behaviors in humans have been shown to reduce these behaviors in non-human primates, suggesting a common biological mechanism.

One commonly used procedure to assess anxiety in non-human primates is the “Human Intruder Test” (HIT). This procedure was designed to evaluate an animal’s response to the “uncertainty” of the presence of an unfamiliar human. The species appropriate response when presented with this mild challenge is to remain still and vigilant; however, there is a range of responses, with some animals showing little response and others excessive freezing behavior. Variations of this procedure have used similar stimuli, including unfamiliar conspecifics and predatory threats (e.g., stuffed predator) to measure anxiety-related responses. Animals that exhibit heightened anxiety responses in the Human Intruder Test also show alterations in the same neurobiological systems affected in humans with anxiety disorders.

Barbary macaque. CC0 via Pixabay.
Barbary macaque. CC0 via Pixabay.

Another class of anxiety tests in non-human primates relies on measuring physiological response following the presentation of an unexpected auditory or motor stimulus. For example, anxious people are more likely than others to react to a brief, unexpected sound with an exaggerated heart rate. Researchers have adopted similar methodology to assess startle response for nonhuman primates using a wide range of stimuli and physiological parameters.

Other research has focused on the cognitive processes involved in the regulation of anxiety responses. These tests of “cognitive bias” are based on the idea that an individual’s tendency to attend to potentially noxious stimuli tell us something about how the individual processes or weighs the experience. Therefore, an individual’s “anxious” state can be by assessed from his or her judgment about or attention to stimuli with different potentials to evoke anxiety. Cognitive bias procedures have been adapted and successfully employed in humans and other animals with similar response strategies across species, making these tests valuable comparative tools in our understanding of anxious behavior behavior.

Our review presents non-human primate models used by scientists in an effort to understand the biobehavioral mechanisms that mediate anxiety. The cross-species approach of modeling human psychopathology aims to discover targets for treatment toward the goal of reducing human suffering caused by anxiety disorders. Additionally, the knowledge gained from our investigation of anxiety-like behavior inform captive care of non-human primates. The studies reviewed have refined our understanding of factors that may result in anxiety-like behavior and provide information on how to manage them. Modeling psychopathology in non-human primates is necessary and critical to our understanding and treatment of these disorders in humans and nonhuman primates.

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5. World Philosophy Day reading list

World Philosophy Day was created by UNESCO in 2005 in order to “win recognition for and give strong impetus to philosophy and, in particular, to the teaching of philosophy in the world”. To celebrate World Philosophy Day, we have compiled a list of what we consider to be the most essential philosophy titles. We are also providing free access to several key journal articles and online products in philosophy so that you can explore this discipline in more depth. Happy reading!


Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will by Alfred R. Mele
9780199371624
Does free will exist? The question has fueled heated debates spanning from philosophy to psychology and religion. The answer has major implications, and the stakes are high. To put it in the simple terms that have come to dominate these debates, if we are free to make our own decisions, we are accountable for what we do, and if we aren’t free, we’re off the hook.

Philosophy Bites Again by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton
This is really a conversation, and conversations are the best way to see philosophy in action. It offers engaging and thought-provoking conversations with leading philosophers on a selection of major philosophical issues that affect our lives. Their subjects include pleasure, pain, and humor; consciousness and the self; free will, responsibility, and punishment; the meaning of life and the afterlife.

Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy by Simon Blackburn
Here at last is a coherent, unintimidating introduction to the challenging and fascinating landscape of Western philosophy. Written expressly for “anyone who believes there are big questions out there, but does not know how to approach them.”

What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy by Thomas Nagel
In this cogent and accessible introduction to philosophy, the distinguished author of Mortal Questions and The View From Nowhere brings the central problems of philosophical inquiry to life, demonstrating why they have continued to fascinate and baffle thinkers across the centuries.

Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics by Earl Conee and Theodore Sider
Two leading philosophers explore the most fundamental questions there are, about what is, what is not, what must be, and what might be. It has an informal style that brings metaphysical questions to life and shows how stimulating it can be to think about them.
9780199603572

Killing in War by Jeff McMahan
This is a highly controversial challenge to the consensus about responsibility in war. Jeff McMahan argues compellingly that if the leaders are in the wrong, then the soldiers are in the wrong.

Reason in a Dark Time by Dale Jamieson
In this book, philosopher Dale Jamieson explains what climate change is, why we have failed to stop it, and why it still matters what we do. Centered in philosophy, the volume also treats the scientific, historical, economic, and political dimensions of climate change.

Poverty, Agency, and Human Rights edited by Diana Tietjens Meyers
Collects thirteen new essays that analyze how human agency relates to poverty and human rights respectively as well as how agency mediates issues concerning poverty and social and economic human rights. No other collection of philosophical papers focuses on the diverse ways poverty impacts the agency of the poor.
9780199338870
Aha! The Moments of Insight That Shape Our World by William B. Irvine
This book incorporates psychology, neurology, and evolutionary psychology to take apart what we can learn from a variety of significant “aha” moments that have had lasting effects. Unlike other books on intellectual breakthroughs that focus on specific areas such as the arts, Irvine’s addresses aha moments in a variety of areas including science and religion.

On What Matters: Volume One by Derek Parfit
Considered one of the most important works in the field since the 19th century, it is written in the uniquely lucid and compelling style for which Parfit is famous. This is an ambitious treatment of the main theories of ethics.

The Emergent Multiverse: Quantum Theory according to the Everett Interpretation by David Wallace
Quantum physics is the most successful scientific theory we have. But no one knows how to make sense of it. We need to bite the bullet – it’s common sense that must give way. The universe is much stranger than we can think.

The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters by Thomas Hurka
An engaging, accessible survey of the different things that can make life worth living: pleasure, knowledge, achievement, virtue, love, and more. A book that considers what really matters in one’s life, and making decisions around those values.

9780192854216 What should I do?: Plato’s Crito’ in Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction by Edward Craig
Plato, born around 427 BC, is not the first important philosopher, with Vedas of India, the Buddha, and Confucius all pre-dating him. However, he is the first philosopher to have left us with a substantial body of complete works that are available to us today, which all take the form of dialogues. This chapter focuses on the dialogue called Crito in which Socrates asks ‘What should I do?’

A biography of John Locke in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
A philosopher regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers, John Locke was born on 29th August 1632 in Somerset, England. In the late 1650s he became interested in medicine, which led easily to natural philosophy after being introduced to these new ideas of mechanical philosophy by Robert Boyle. Discover what happened next in Locke’s life with this biography

‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’ from Mind, published in 1950.14602113
In this seminal paper, celebrated mathematician and pioneer Alan Turing attempts to answer the question, ‘Can machines think?’, and thus introduces his theory of ‘the imitation game’(now known as the Turing test) to the world. Turing skilfully debunks theological and ethical arguments against computational intelligence: he acknowledges the limitations of a machine’s intellect, while boldly exposing those of man, ultimately laying the groundwork for the study of artificial intelligence – and the philosophy behind it.

‘Phenomenology as a Resource for Patients’ from The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, published in 2012
Patient support tools have drawn on a variety of disciplines, including psychotherapy, social psychology, and social care. One discipline that has not so far been used to support patients is philosophy. This paper proposes that a particular philosophical approach, phenomenology, could prove useful for patients, giving them tools to reflect on and expand their understanding of their illness.

Do you have any philosophy books that you think should be added to this reading list? Let us know in the comments below.

Headline image credit: Rays at Burning Man by foxgrrl. CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0 via Flickr.

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6. Luciano Floridi responds to NYROB review of The Fourth Revolution

In the October 9th edition of the New York Review of Books, philosopher John Searle criticized Luciano Floridi’s The Fourth Revolution, noting that Floridi “sees himself as the successor to Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud, each of whom announced a revolution that transformed our self-conception into something more modest.” In the response below, Floridi disputes this claim and many others made by Searle in his review of The Fourth Revolution.

John Searle’s review of The Fourth Revolution – How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality (OUP, 2014) is astonishingly shallow and misguided. The silver lining is that, if its factual errors and conceptual confusions are removed, the opportunity for an informed and insightful reading can still be enjoyed.

The review erroneously ascribes to me a fourth revolution in our self-understanding, which I explicitly attribute to Alan Turing. We are not at the center of the universe (Copernicus), of the biological kingdom (Darwin), or of the realm of rationality (Freud). After Turing, we are no longer at the center of the world of information either. We share the infosphere with smart technologies. These are not some unrealistic AI, as the review would have me suggest, but ordinary artefacts that outperform us in ever more tasks, despite being no cleverer than a toaster. Their abilities are humbling and make us revaluate our unique intelligence. Their successes largely depend on the fact that the world has become an IT-friendly environment, where technologies can replace us without having any understanding or semantic skills. We increasingly live onlife (think of apps tracking your location). The pressing problem is not whether our digital systems can think or know, for they cannot, but what our environments are gradually enabling them to achieve. Like Kant, I do not know whether the world in itself is informational, a view that the review erroneously claims I support. What I do know is that our conceptualization of the world is. The distinction is trivial and yet crucial: from DNA as code to force fields as the foundation of matter, from the mind-brain dualism as a software-hardware distinction to computational neuroscience, from network-based societies to digital economies and cyber conflicts, today we understand and deal with the world informationally. To be is to be interactable: this is our new “ontology”.

The review denounces dualisms yet uncritically endorses a dichotomy between relative (or subjective) vs. absolute (or objective) phenomena. This is no longer adequate because today we know that many phenomena are relational. For example, whether some stuff qualifies as food depends on the nature both of the substance and of the organism that is going to absorb it. Yet relativism is mistaken, because not any stuff can count as food, sand never does. Likewise, semantic information (e.g. a train timetable) is a relational phenomenon: it depends on the right kind of message and receiver. Insisting on mapping information as either relative or absolute is as naïve as pretending that a border between two nations must be located in one of them.

The world is getting more complex. We have never been so much in need of good philosophy to understand it and take care for it. But we need to upgrade philosophy into a philosophy of information of our age for our age if we wish it to be relevant. This is what the book is really about.

Feature image credit: Macro computer citrcuit board, by Randy Pertiet. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

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7. The other side of El Sistema: Music education, discipline, and profit

The Venezuelan youth orchestra scheme El Sistema is perhaps the world’s most famous music education program today. It’s lauded as a revolutionary social program that has rescued hundreds of thousands of Venezuela’s poorest children. Simon Rattle has called it “the most important thing happening in music anywhere in the world.” Classical music education is back in vogue, now aligned with the rhetoric of social justice.

However, the training of social or ethnic Others (the poor, the destitute, the non-white) as classical music performers is hardly a new idea, and delving into its long history may improve understandings of El Sistema outside Venezuela, which are currently very limited. While this training might have provided a helping hand to the most disadvantaged in society, it also had less benevolent aspects.

The music conservatoire has its roots in the conservatorios, or orphanages, of Renaissance Venice. Young female orphans were trained in music at institutions such as the Ospedale della Pietà, where Vivaldi worked. These institutions served a clear charitable purpose, providing for destitute children and aiming to turn them into productive citizens. Yet it’s worth noting a couple of further points: discipline and profit.

The Ospedali Grandi’s purpose was primarily to regulate the city’s social environment, and along with the opportunities provided to impoverished girls went strict control over their day-to-day lives. As Vanessa M. Tonelli notes, the young musicians had to submit to an inflexible monastic routine: silence, lots of work, and little leisure time. When the English music historian Charles Burney visited in the eighteenth century, he noted “good discipline observed in every particular,” and he described the orchestra as “under the most exact discipline,” with its musicians “under that kind of subordination which is requisite in a servant to a superior.” Clearly, then, musical training was an extension of the Ospedali’s social control. It also had an economic angle: concerts by the orphan girls became a major attraction, and the Ospedali were thus able to turn their musical talents into profit, enriching the institutions and their administrators by eliciting larger donations.

Naples, too, had a conservatorio system, in which, as David Yearsley writes, music “was drummed into thousands of children in a system of forced labor…. There was huge international demand for the fashionable Neapolitan style, and the conservatories fed it.” Employing a training system that was “often cruel,” these “music mills” forged highly trained performers for export across Europe. Their art “belied the inexorable regime of study, discipline, and punishment that lay behind it”: Burney described sweatshop-like conditions, with students practising ten hours a day with only a few days off per year.

Caracas_Brass
Caracas Brass, El Sistema. By Agonzalez. CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Yearsley posits a “dialectic of musical enlightenment: on one side of the split screen was the musical workhouse of the poor orphans, on the other, the courtly chamber filled by the most elegant music played by bewigged and fully-trained instrumentalists.” Enchanting music emerged from conditions of control and exploitation.

The alliance of coercion and beauty was not limited to Europe. The Spanish Conquest of the Americas saw missionaries fanning out across the continent and founding schools that taught music as a core subject. A key aim was to instill in the indigenous population what the Spaniards called policía–order, Christianity, and civilization. Music education thus served as a handmaiden of colonialism.

In nineteenth-century Britain, music education was promoted among the poor as part of a drive for moral and religious improvement. Howard Smither argues that a key motivation was the political protection of the upper and wealthy middle classes. Music was seen as a way of keeping the workers out of taverns, increasing their productivity and decreasing their opportunities to discuss revolutionary ideas. Similarly, David Gramit underlines how nineteenth-century educational reform in Germany reaffirmed the social and economic order; music education proponents “sought to create a disciplined but docile labor pool” and thus promote more efficient capitalism. Grant Olwage explores how the perceived efficacy of music education as social control in Britain made it an obvious tool for disciplining and “civilizing” the black population in its colony in South Africa.

What all these programs had in common was an attempt to order and control social Others. They reveal music education in its guise of disciplinary practice, and thus as profoundly ambiguous. As Michel Foucault argues, discipline is effective and productive, as the high level of performing skill attained by many of these musical trainees attests. But discipline also “imposes unequal, asymmetrical, non-reciprocal relations” (James Johnson), and produces docile, apolitical subjects. Music education thus brings benefits, but they often accrue as much to the educators as the educated (as economic and symbolic capital) and may be accompanied by significant (if hidden) costs.

Training, discipline, profit: these three threads run through the history of music education of social or ethnic Others. Let’s now turn to Venezuela.

El Sistema has been lionised by the international press as a revolution in artistic education and a beacon of social justice. Clearly, then, there has been a failure to connect it to similar music education initiatives stretching back half a millennium and to take account of the darker side of music education. For all the contemporary talk of a “revolutionary social project,” El Sistema offers little that is new—its core ideas were presaged in sixteenth-century Latin America and nineteenth-century Europe–and such programs have historically been reactionary, not revolutionary.

Historical precedents alert us to the possibility that alongside El Sistema’s undoubted productivity lie discipline and profit. And indeed, the Venezuelan program displays a familiar urge to control social Others and benefit from their musical activities. Founder José Antonio Abreu has said: “As an educator, I was thinking more about discipline than about music.” Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, meanwhile, have become mainstays of the global music industry, attracting the kind of international praise and wonder that Venetian orphan musicians did centuries earlier, and generating considerable revenue in the process. Like the Neapolitan conservatorios, it drills young performers intensively to fulfill the desires of audiences across Europe; once again, the musicians’ “naturalness” is celebrated, their unbending training regime overlooked.

To understand El Sistema, we need to remember music education’s two faces. The press and public have fixated on one–“rescuing” and training the poor–and have largely ignored the other: discipline and profit. Only when the second is fully grasped can a proper assessment be made.

Headline image credit: ‘Maestro. Orchestra. Conductor’. Public domain via Pixabay

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8. Scholarly reflections on ‘slacktivism’

Whether its the use of Facebook in the 2008 US Presidential election or the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014, there are new forms of activism emerging online. But are all these forms of activism equal? With the inclusion of slacktivism on Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year shortlist, we asked a number of scholars for their thoughts on this new word and emerging phenomenon.

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“I’m sure slacktivism is meant to criticize the “activity” and the slackers who do it. It was probably made up by real activists who felt they had to draw a line and protect their own credibility. Still, the phenomenon may not be as bad as it seems. There are all those partially reformed slackers out there, they came of age with the Internet, and they’ll never be real activists, right, so isn’t it better that they at least be slacktivists? Also, how many activists are there? But there are more than two billion Internet users worldwide — potentially that’s a lot of slacktivists. So here’s the question occasioned by this year’s contest for Word of the Year: Can two billion slacktivists accomplish more than all of the certified activists? Anyway, I’m a sucker for a blend.”
Michael Adams, Indiana University at Bloomington, author of Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon, Slang: The People’s Poetry, editor of From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages

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Mission Accomplished - ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by Anthony Quintano. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Mission Accomplished – ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by Anthony Quintano. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

“This term is a combination of the words slacker and activist and generally refers to actions, largely on the Internet, to influence policy or politics that require little to no effort. Slacktivism typically is used to criticize behavior that appears to have only a marginal utility, but makes the participants feel better about themselves. Slacktivism typically includes signing Internet petitions, joining a Facebook group, changing your online profile picture to a symbolic image, mass e-mail campaigns, and resending political or policy content through social media. While the term is most often applied to Internet activities, it can also refer to offline activism that also requires little to no effort or commitment, such as wearing a ribbon or political button. The primary concern with slacktivism is that it may occupy or satisfy people with ineffective activities who would otherwise be more engaged participants in more influential forms of activism. However, these critiques may be an oversimplification, as slacktivism activities can have a measurable influence and do not preclude more direct forms of activism.”
Kevin M. Wagner, Associate Professor of Political Science at Florida Atlantic University and co-author of Tweeting to Power: The Social Media Revolution in American Politics

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“A bit of a mouthful, but highly descriptive. People who care about political and social causes are usually comfortable with talking about -isms. Too bad they don’t put more of their time where their hearts are. (The political scientist Robert Putnam talked about this decline of social capital in his book Bowling Alone.)”
Naomi S. Baron, Professor of Linguistics and Executive Director of the Center for Teaching, Research & Learning at American University in Washington, DC; author of Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World and the forthcoming Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World

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Headline image credit: Computer Keyboard by Marina Shemes via PublicDomainPictures.net.

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9. The ayes have it

The ayes may have it, but we, poor naysayers, remain in ignorance about the derivation of ay(e) “yes.” I hope to discuss the various forms of assent in December, and we’ll see that that the origin of some synonyms of ay(e) is also enigmatic. Perhaps the word does not even deserve the attention lavished on it by linguists, but, as usual in etymology and in much of scholarship, once a question is asked, there is no way to get rid of it. It draws more and more people into the controversy and gains momentum.

The earliest known example of ay(e), at that time spelled as I, goes back to 1576. Shakespeare was born in 1564, which means that he heard aye ~ I most of his life; he used it freely in his plays. How and why did ay(e) come into existence in the second half of the sixteenth century? Guesses vary, with some conclusions looking more realistic than the others.

I should propose that such a word, almost an interjection, originated “on the street” rather than in official parlance. Twenty-five years ago, Professor Rolf Bremmer wrote an article on aye and in passing compared aye and OK. The comparison seems apt. The origin of OK became clear after years of laborious research. Some people are still unconvinced by the results, but the statement one finds in the most recent dictionaries is probably all correct. The word gained fame (or notoriety) during an election campaign, spread from its home, and in the twentieth century, mainly after the Second World War, conquered half of the world. (As late as 1938, an Englishman, in a letter to The Spectator, vented his wrath on OK for “defiling” the English language and on those who dared say that it was “OK to walk in the Zoo on Sunday.” Ay(e) must have had a similar history: it probably rose from the lower depths, lost its slangy tinge, became conversational, and ended up among the most respectable, even if dead, words in the language, considering its use in voting (“all in favor say aye”—oyez, oyez, oyez). It is reasonable to suggest that by 1576 it had been around for a few decades.

The common opinion has it that ay(e) lacks cognates outside English, but, while examining early sixteenth-century Frisian legal documents, Bremmer found ay, aij, and aey “yes,” a word related to Engl. yea, in the answers of several witnesses. (Incidentally, English etymologist Hensleigh Wedgwood knew about the Frisian form, but today hardly anyone opens even the last of four editions of Wedgwood’s dictionary.) Bremmer considered the following possibilities: (1) Frisian borrowed the formula of assent from English, (2) English borrowed it from Frisian, (3) both borrowed it from a third language, and (4) although aye goes back to an ancient period, it surfaced in both languages around 1600. In his view, only the second option has a semblance of verisimilitude. I will not go over his arguments (the word is obviously not very old, while a “third language” is pure fiction) but say that his conclusion may need modification. Among other things, Bremmer, following the German scholar Hermann Flasdieck, mentioned the chance of a nautical origin. Flasdieck did not elaborate. Bremmer probably thought of borrowing from Frisian-speaking sailors. One can indeed imagine a formula like “Ay, ay, Sir” becoming part of international slang. (The origin of nautical words is often hard to trace: compare my old post on awning.)

All eyes on the ayes. (Parliament adopts EU budget for 2011. ©European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via European Parliament Flickr.
All eyes on the ayes.

Let us now look at how some other scholars tried to deal with ay(e). Their approaches are partly predictable. Since ay(e) was spelled as I, it was natural to try to derive the word from the pronoun. Allegedly, people suddenly began saying “I, I” when they meant “yes, yes.” Objections to this hypothesis have been many. Mine is hidden in the adverb suddenly prefaced to began in the previous sentence. We will see that no one asked what had made the word popular around 1650, and this, I think, is the reason why the origin of aye remains unknown to this day.

Then there is the adverb aye “ever,” and it occurred to some that ay(e) “yes” is the same word (after all, no goes back to the negation n- and Old Engl. a “ever”; the vowel was long, as, for example, in Modern Engl. spa or the family name Haas). Those who have been exposed to several varieties of English know that in many areas Kate, mate, and so forth sound as kite and mite. (So it is now in London, and I remember my futile attempts to explain to a secretary at Cambridge University that the first letter of my name—Anatoly—is an a. Unfortunately, she pronounced the town’s name as Kimebridge and could not make out what I wanted. I still have that ID for I. Liberman.) However short the path from A to I may be, I “yes” never meant “ever, always.” Yet even under the best of circumstances why should an obscure dialectal form of the affirmative take root in the capital and stay in the language? Even in the nineteenth century, Londoners did not say stition for station.

At least two etymologists attempted to trace ay(e) to longer words or whole phrases. Both scholars have good credentials, but their conjectures strike me as less than totally persuasive (to use a polite euphemism), and I have to repeat the same fateful question: What caused the appearance of the enigmatic word in the seventeenth century? It may be worthwhile to reiterate a simple but constantly ignored rule of linguistic reconstruction. Whether we investigate the nature of a sound change, a shift in grammar, or the origin of a word, we have to discover the circumstances in which the process took place. If, let us say, short vowels became long in the thirteenth century, why just then? Certainly not because short vowels tend to strive for upward mobility.

This lemur is called an aye-aye. An ideal yes-man and henchman.
This lemur is called an aye-aye. An ideal yes-man and henchman.

I may also add my traditional rueful comment. Before the recent publication of a bibliography of English etymology it was hard to find even the most important works on the history of any given word. In 1950 Gösta Langenfelt, in a Swedish journal (but he wrote the article in English!), proposed the derivation of ay(e) from the group ah je. In 1954 E. K. C. Varty had a similar idea and put it forward in Notes and Queries. He was unaware of his predecessor. In 1956, Klaus J. Kohler developed Langenfelt’s idea (the most sensible etymology, as he called it). He published his findings in English and then incorporated his idea into a longer work in German. He never discovered Varty’s one-page note. Even the most conscientious etymologists are doomed to roaming in the gloaming. Despite the consensus on the matter in hand among three distinguished authors, none of whom addressed the question of chronology, I keep thinking that ay(e) did not develop from a compound or a word group.

We will disregard the idea that ay is ya or ja, with the sounds in reverse order, or that it is a borrowing from Latin (so Samuel Johnson; his editor Todd questioned this hypothesis), but for the fun of it we may follow the path of Webster’s dictionary: first some vague references to Scandinavian and Celtic, then silence (no etymology in Webster-Mahn (!)), later “perhaps a modification of yea,” and the final splash: “Of uncertain etymology.” Being uncertain is an honest etymologist’s immutable fate.

Image credit: (1) Parliament adopts EU budget for 2011. ©European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via European Parliament Flickr. (2) The Aye-Aye (from Trans. of Zool. Soc.). Illustration from “On The Genesis of Species” by St. George Mivart, F.R.S. (1827-1900.) London: Macmillan and Co. 1871. Project Gutenberg. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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10. Put the debate about slacktivism to rest

Oxford Dictionaries included slacktivism on its Word of the Year 2014 shortlist, so we invited several experts to comment on this Internet activism phenomenon.

The term slacktivism is based on a question that should never have been asked: are digital activists doing anything worthwhile, or are they mere “slacktivists,” activists who are slacking off?

The word arose from a debate about what value there was to all those people who were willing to click a few buttons to express their outcry over the shooting of Trayvon Martin or participate in the ALS ice-bucket challenge—but do nothing else. While some have hailed this new era of digital activism as a great democratizing force, opening up the political process and giving voice to people in a new way, others have scoffed at its impact. “The revolution will not be tweeted,” Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote.

Asking whether digital activism is a meaningful lever for social change is the wrong question to ask for several reasons.

First, the forms and capabilities of digital activism itself are changing rapidly, so that answers to the question become obsolete almost as fast as the technologies on which they are based.

Second, the types and uses of digital activism are as diverse as traditional forms of activism, ranging tremendously in what they can accomplish. So there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Digital activism, like regular activism, can be both effective and ineffective, both thin and thick.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, focusing on digital activism puts the emphasis on the tools, not the people who use the tools. The success of any change effort has always depended on the capabilities of the people who use whatever tools are at their disposal.

The right question to ask, then, is not “How good are the tools?” but instead “How good are the people and organizations who use those tools?” Lots of organizations, campaigns, and movements all over the world try to get people engaged in activism every day. Some are better than others. Why?

Conventional wisdom might argue that an organization’s ability to engage activists depends on a charismatic leader, a catchy message, or, in this day and age, its ability to leverage big data and technology. Those things all matter. But after spending two years comparing high-engagement organizations to their low-engagement counterparts, I find that what really differentiates the high-engagement organizations is their ability to create transformative experiences for their activists.

While most organizations focus on trying to get more people to do more stuff by making participation as easy as possible, these high-engagement organizations are doing more. Whether they are doing it online or offline, these organizations are carefully engaging people in ways that cultivate the motivational, strategic, and practical capacities they need to engage in further activism—as a result, everything from the kinds of activities they plan, to the way they structure their organizations, to the way they communicate with volunteers, is different. Combined with a hard-nosed focus on numbers, these organizations are thus able to achieve both the breadth and depth of activism that many organizations seek.

So let’s put the debate about slacktivism to rest. Instead, let’s begin asking how we can use technology to create transformative spaces where people can develop their individual and collective agency. If technology can create the kinds of interpersonal, transformative spaces face-to-face organizations have built for years, then we’ll be able to get the depth we want, but on a grander scale than we’ve ever had before.

Headline image credit: Protest Illustration. Public domain via Pixabay.

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11. Slacktivism as optical illusion

Oxford Dictionaries included slacktivism on its Word of the Year 2014 shortlist, so we invited several experts to comment on this Internet activism phenomenon.

Slacktivism is a portmanteau, bridging slacker and activism. It is usually not intended as a compliment.

The term is born out of frustration with the current state of public discourse: signing an e-petition, retweeting a message, or “liking” something on Facebook seems too easy. When people engage in these simple digital acts around social causes, we wonder: are they fooling themselves into believing they can make a difference? What can these clicks actually accomplish? Do they degrade “real” social activism, or make citizens less likely to take more substantial steps?

But if we examine these digital acts a little more closely, it turns out that slacktivism is a bit of an optical illusion. Simple digital acts of participation can be wispy or powerful. They can be a dead end for social engagement, or Act 1 in a grand narrative of social mobilization. It all depends on the context and the intended purpose of these digital actions, and on how committed, organized groups of citizens make use of them.

Three features are particularly important when deciding whether an act of online participation should be dismissed as “just slacktivism.”

First is what Andrew Chadwick (2013) calls “the hybrid media system.” One major goal of most citizen activism is to attract media attention. Mainstream media still help to set the agenda for the national conversation – whether CNN and USA Today are covering Ebola or the national debt helps to magnify attention to each of those issues. In the pre-digital era, activist groups would stage rallies and send press releases to attract the attention of the media. Today, journalists and their editors often turn to digital media in order to pick out potential stories worth covering. So online petitions, likes, and hashtags can be more than just slacktivism if they are strategically used to attract media attention.

Second is the target of the digital action. All activist tactics – digital or offline – should be viewed within their strategic context. Who is being targeted, and why would the target listen? Marshall Ganz (2010) writes that “Strategy is how we turn what we have into what we need to get what we want.” Digital petitions, by this logic, can be tremendously effective or a complete waste of time. A petition to “stop animal cruelty,” aimed at no one in particular, is guaranteed to make no difference. But a recent wave of online petitions aimed at Boy Scout Troops resulted in the Boy Scouts of America officially changing its position and allowing openly gay youths to participate in the organization. Likewise, when online “slackers” submit millions of online comments to the FCC in support of net neutrality, those comments carry the force of demonstrated public opinion. When online citizens tweet or post their displeasure at corporations, reputation-conscious companies have been known to change their policies and practices.

Third, is the organizational context. Some simple acts of digital engagement can indeed leave people less likely to engage in larger-scale activism. In particular, researchers have found that initial acts of token support can relieve psychological pressure that would otherwise push an individual to engage more deeply. But these same acts can also operate as the first step in a “ladder of engagement.” You start by retweeting a news article, and then signing a petition. In the process, you are added to the member rolls of a “netroots” advocacy organization. And that organization then reaches out to you, inviting you to a street protest or a local meeting about the issue. As Hahrie Han (2014) demonstrates, organizations develop activists by building relationships with them over time. These initial acts of “slacktivism” can vanish into nothing, or provide a base for civic mobilization.

The complaints we hear today about “slacktivism” are identical to an earlier generation of complaints about “armchair activism.” Where today we hear that actions performed via the Internet are too simple to make a difference, in the 1970s we heard that actions performed via the mail or the telephone were too simple to make a difference. Then, as now, those complaints were an optical illusion: the power of these activist techniques depends on what angle you observe them from. The medium through which we engage in politics matters less than the networks, relationships, and strategies we employ along the way.

Headline image credit: Large crowd of small symbolic 3d figures, over white. © higyou via iStock.

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12. Slacktivism, clicktivism, and “real” social change

Oxford Dictionaries included slacktivism on its Word of the Year 2014 shortlist, so we invited several experts to comment on this Internet activism phenomenon.

Like its corollary clicktivism, slacktivism is a term that unites entrenched technosceptics and romantic revolutionaries from a pre-Internet or, more precisely, a pre-social media age as they admonish younger generations for their lack of commitment to “real” social change or willingness to do “what it takes” to make the world around them a better place.

This perception is based on drawing a corollary between the mounting evidence that people are spending more and more time online and the perception that political and social movements are no longer what they were. I would agree with both observations.

I would not agree, however, with this widely held assumption that online forms of sociopolitical mobilization, information-exchange, or community-building are either inferior or less genuine to offline varieties. There are good, bad, and indifferent forms of online political engagement just as there are in the offline world, e.g. going on a demonstration or signing a paper petition are not in themselves signs of above-average mobilization. In this sense then slacktivism, defined as actions in “support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement,” existed long before the Internet came of age in the 1990s with the world wide web. And slacktivism, according to this part of the definition, will exist long after the social media platforms that dominate the internet of today have made way for the next generation of goods and services. Disapproval at the way any given generation makes use — or not — of the media and communications of their time will also continue long after the target of this pejorative term, so-called digital natives, have grown up and started to lament the way their children seem to have become disengaged from the social and political problems of their time in turn. Half-hearted or short-lived forms of political action, empty rhetoric, or fleeting movements for change are neither reducible to, nor are they synonymous with any particular technological artefact or system, even a transformative and complex one such as the Internet. This held true for the Internet’s socio-technological precursors such as television, the telephone, radio, and even the printing press.

Activist table office. © ToozDesign via iStock.
Activist table office. © ToozDesign via iStock.

My taking distance from this easy dismissal of the way people use the Internet to call to account power abuses at home and abroad, or to share information and get organized by going online, arises from a longstanding concern I have about the way that media pundits — and some parts of academe — look for easy ways to generate headlines or sell books by drawing such false dichotomies between our online and our offline lives. This preference for the simple either/or tends to overlook more pressing questions about the changing face and nature of sociopolitical engagement in a domain that is being squeezed from all sides by incumbent political and economic interests. It is tempting, and comforting to treat online mobilization as suspicious by default, but to do so, as astute observers (not) so long ago have already noted (Walter Benjamin and Donna Haraway for instance) does a disservice to critical analyses of how society and technological change collide and collude with one another, and in complex, over-determined ways. But I would go further here to argue that tarring all forms of online activism as slacktivism is a form of myopic thinking that would condemn the ways in which today’s generation’s communicate their concerns about the injustices of the world in which they live online. It also underestimates the politicizing effect that recent revelations about way in which the internet, the medium and means in which they find out about their world is being excessively if not illegally data-mined and surveilled by vested — governmental and commercial — interests.

Assuming that the Internet, admittedly a harbinger of major shifts in the way people access information, communicate with one another, and organize, is the main cause for the supposedly declining levels of civic engagement of the younger generation is to succumb to the triple perils of technological determinism, older-generational myopia, and sloppy thinking. It also overlooks, indeed ignores, the fact that organizing online is a time-consuming, energy-draining, and expensive undertaking. This holds true even if many of the tools and applications people can draw on are offered “free” or are, arguably, relatively easy to use. Sustaining a blog, a website, a social media account, getting people to sign an e-petition, or deploying email to good effect are activities that require know-how, want-to, and wherewithal. Moreover, mounting any sort of campaign or community project in order to address a social injustice at home let alone around the world, cannot be done these days without recourse to the internet.

What has changed, like it or not, is that in Internet-dependent contexts, any sort of serious political or social form of action now has to include an online dimension, and a sustained one at that. This means that additional energies need to be devoted to developing multi-sited and multi-skilled forms of strategic thinking, deployment of human resources, and ways to make those qualities that can inspire and mobilize people to get involved work for the online environment (e.g. how to use micro-blogging idioms well), on the ground (e.g. face-to-face meetings), and in non-digital formats (e.g. in written or physical forms). It is a sign of our age that sociopolitical action needs to know how to combine age-old, pre-digital age techniques to mobilize others with those that can speak in the 24/7, mobile, and user-generated idioms of online solidarity that can engage people close to home as well as those living far away. Huge sociocultural and political power differentials aside, given that people and communities access and use the Internet in many ways at any one time around the world, the effort and commitment required of pre-Internet forms of organizing pale in comparison to those called for in an Internet age.

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13. Does workplace stress play a role in retirement drinking?

Alcohol misuse among the retired population is a phenomenon that has been long recognized by scholars and practitioners. The retirement process is complex, and researchers posit that the pre-retirement workplace can either protect against—or contribute to—alcohol misuse among retirees.

The prevalence of alcohol misuse among older workers is staggering. In the United States, the rate of heavy drinking (i.e., more than seven drinks per week or two drinks on any one occasion) among those aged 65 and older is calculated to be at 10% for men and 2.5% for women, with some studies estimating the frequency of alcohol misuse among older (i.e., age 50 and older) as 16% or higher. Yet another study makes the case that 10% of all alcoholics are over 60. As a point of reference, the incidence of frequent heavy drinking in the workforce (US) is 9.2% and rate of alcohol abuse is 5.4%.

Estimates of future problem drinking and predictions of how prevalence rates may rise may be underestimated, not only because of the aging of the population, but also because of shifting societal and cultural norms. There is evidence that individuals follow relative stable drinking patterns as they age. If this is the case, the Baby Boomer generation may show a higher prevalence of alcohol problems as they enter later life than their parents and grandparents. Moreover, some research suggests that the frequency and severity of alcohol misuse may increase in aging populations, especially among individuals with a history of drinking problems.

Recent research has suggested that retirement drinking may be influenced by workplace factors.

Richman, Zlatoper, Zackula, Ehmke, and Rospenda (2006) investigated the role of aversive workplace conditions that could influence drinking behavior among retirees: sexual harassment, generalized workplace abuse, and psychological workload. The analysis of a longitudinal study of employees at a Midwestern university shows that retirees who had experienced high levels of stress drank more than their counterparts who were still employed (and who were still experiencing a stressful workplace). This pattern held even in relation to a comparison between stressed and non-stressed workers. The study suggests that for those still employed, workplace norms and regulations may inhibit the use of alcohol as a means of self-medication in response to highly stressful experiences, retirement removes the social controls that curtailed drinking while the individual was in the workforce.

retirementpostpic
Retirement of Porter Ted Humphreys, 1968. Public domain via LSE Library.

Bacharach, Bamberger, Biron, & Horowitz-Rozen (2008) examined the role that positive work conditions might have on the retirement-drinking relationship, positing that pre-retirement job satisfaction might interact with retirement agency to affect retirees’ drinking behavior. Using data from a NIH-funded ten-year study of retirement-eligible and retired workers, the research team found a positive association between “push” perceptions and both the quantity and frequency of drinking (though not drinking problems), and an inverse association between “pull” perceptions and both drinking frequency and drinking problems (though not quantity). The study also found that greater job satisfaction amplified the positive association between “push” perceptions and alcohol consumption, and attenuated the inverse association between “pull” perceptions and unhealthy or problematic drinking. This moderating effect of pre-retirement job valence suggests that people who are most satisfied with their jobs are likely to fare worst in response to the stress of a retirement that is unplanned or undesired. Even when retirement is the result of personal volition, it may still be associated with a sense of loss and negative emotions for which alcohol may serve as a coping mechanism.

Bacharach, Bamberger, Doveh and Cohen (2007) examined how the social availability of alcohol in and around the workplace prior to retirement may have divergent effects on older adult drinking behavior. Bacharach et al. found that problem drinkers—after retiring from a workplace with permissive drinking norms—drank less over the first two years of retirement. This population not only left the workplace, but they also dropped their regular association with coworkers who supported and encouraged drinking behavior. The findings suggest that for those with a history of problem drinking, retirement may be linked to a net decline in the severity of drinking problems.

To assess the degree to which this decline in problem drinking may be attributed to separating from a permissive workplace drinking culture, the team examined shifts in the extent of the problem-drinking cohort’s social support networks during the study period. Findings suggest that the decline in problem drinking severity was apparent among those whose social networks became smaller in retirement. Conversely, for the small number whose social networks expanded in retirement, problem drinking severity increased. The nature of the retirement-problem drinking relationship, at least for baseline problem drinkers, may be contingent upon the social availability of alcohol in the work environment from which they disengage.

While there is a lack of research demonstrating the role of strain as a mediator linking these stressors to shifts in older adults’ drinking behavior, a substantial body of evidence examining the role of stress in the origin and intensification of alcohol use and misuse suggests that strain is likely to serve as the intermediary mechanism. To the extent that strain plays such a mediating role, the same network factors are likely to also operate as vulnerability or protective moderating factors in this second stage of the mediation. As suggested by Bacharach et al. (2007), the impact of disengagement-related strain on older adults’ drinking behavior is likely to vary depending upon whether they exit into a non-work social network with more or less permissive drinking norms than those associated with their workplace or occupation.

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14. Give thanks for Chelmsford, the birthplace of the USA

Autumn is here again – in England, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, in the US also the season of Thanksgiving. On the fourth Thursday in November, schoolchildren across the country will stage pageants, some playing black-suited Puritans, others Native Americans bedecked with feathers. By tradition, Barack Obama will ‘pardon’ a turkey, but 46 million others will be eaten in a feast complete with corncobs and pumpkin pie. The holiday has a long history: Lincoln fixed the date (amended by Roosevelt in 1941), and Washington made it a national event. Its origins, of course, lay in the Pilgrim Fathers’ first harvest of 1621.

Who now remembers who these intrepid migrants were – not the early ‘founding fathers’ they became, but who they were when they left? The pageant pilgrims are undifferentiated. Who knows the name of Christopher Martin, a merchant from Billericay near Chelmsford in Essex? He took his whole family on the Mayflower, most of whom, including Martin himself, perished in New Plymouth’s first winter. They died Essex folk in a strange land: there was nothing ‘American’ about them. And as for Thanksgiving, well that habit came from the harvest festivals and religious observances of Protestant England. Even pumpkin pie was an English dish, exported then forgotten on the eastern side of the Atlantic.

Towns like Billericay, Chelmsford and Colchester were crucial to American colonization: ordinary places that produced extraordinary people. The trickle of migrants in the 1620s, in the next decade became a flood, leading to some remarkable transformations. In 1630 Francis Wainwright was drawing ale and clearing pots in a Chelmsford inn when his master, Alexander Knight, decided to emigrate to Massachusetts. It was an age of austerity, of bad harvests and depression in the cloth industry. Plus those who wanted the Protestant Reformation to go further – Puritans – feared that under Charles I it was slipping backwards. Many thought they would try their luck elsewhere until England’s fortunes were restored, perhaps even that by building a ‘new’ England they could help with this restoration. Wainwright, aged about fourteen, went with Knight, and so entered a world of hardship and danger and wonder.

One May dawn, seven years later, Wainwright was standing by the Mystic River in Connecticut, one of seventy troops waiting to shoot at approaching Pequot warriors. According to an observer, the Englishmen ‘being bereaved of pity, fell upon the work without compassion’, and by dusk 400 Indians lay dead in their ruined encampment. The innkeeper’s apprentice had fired until his ammunition was exhausted, then used his musket as a club. One participant celebrated the victory, remarking that English guns had been so fearsome, it was ‘as though the finger of God had touched both match and flint’. Another rejoiced that providence had made a ‘fiery oven’ of the Pequots’ fort. Wainwright took two native heads home as souvenirs. Unlike many migrants, he stayed in America, proud to be a New Englander, English by birth but made different by experience. He lived a long life in commerce, through many fears and alarms, and died at Salem in 1692 during the white heat of the witch-trials.

Pardoning the turkey, by Lawrence Jackson – Official Whitehouse Photographer (White House – Executive Office Of U.S.A. President). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The story poses hard historical questions. What is identity, and how does it change? Thanksgiving pageants turn Englishmen into Americans as if by magic; but the reality was more gradual and nuanced. Recently much scholarly energy has been poured into understanding past emotions. We may think our emotions are private, but they leak out all the time; we may even use them to get what we want. Converted into word and deed, emotions leave traces in the historical record. When the Pilgrim William Bradford called the Pequot massacre ‘a sweet sacrifice’, he was not exactly happy but certainly pleased that God’s will had been done.

Puritans are not usually associated with emotion, but they were deeply sensitive to human and divine behaviour, especially in the colonies. Settlers were proud to be God’s chosen people – like Israelites in the wilderness – yet pride brought shame, followed by doubt that God liked them at all. Introspection led to wretchedness, which was cured by the Holy Spirit, and they were back to their old censorious selves. In England, even fellow Puritans thought they’d lost the plot, as did most (non-Puritan) New Englanders. But godly colonists established what historians call an ‘emotional regime’ or ‘emotional community’ in which their tears and thunder were not only acceptable but carried great political authority.

John Winthrop, the leader of the fleet that carried Francis Wainwright to New England, was an intensely emotional man who loved his wife and children almost as much as he loved God. Gaunt, ascetic and tirelessly judgmental, he became Massachusetts Bay Colony’s first governor, driven by dreams of building a ‘city upon a hill’. It didn’t quite work out: Boston grew too quickly, and became diverse and worldly. And not everyone cared for Winthrop’s definition of liberty: freedom to obey him and his personal interpretation of God’s designs. But presidents from Reagan to Obama have been drawn to ‘the city upon the hill’ as an emotionally potent metaphor for the US in its mission to inspire, assist, and police the world.

Winthrop’s feelings, however, came from and were directed at England. His friend Thomas Hooker, ‘the father of Connecticut’, cut his teeth as a clergyman in Chelmsford when Francis Wainwright lived there. Partly thanks to Wainwright, one assumes, he found the town full of drunks, with ‘more profaneness than devotion’. But Hooker ‘quickly cleared streets of this disorder’. The ‘city upon the hill’, then, was not a blueprint for America, but an exemplar to help England reform itself. Indeed, long before the idea was associated with Massachusetts, it related to English towns – notably Colchester – that aspired to be righteous commonwealths in a country many felt was going to the dogs. Revellers did not disappear from Chelmsford and Colchester – try visiting on a Saturday night – but, as preachers and merchants and warriors, its people did sow the seeds from which grew the most powerful nation in the world.

So if you’re celebrating Thanksgiving this year, or you know someone who is, it’s worth remembering that the first colonists to give thanks were not just generic Old World exiles, uniformly dull until America made them special, but living, breathing emotional individuals with hearts and minds rooted in English towns and shires. To them, the New World was not an upgrade on England: it was a space in which to return their beloved country to its former glories.

Featured image credit: Signing of the Constitution, by Thomas P. Rossiter. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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15. The legitimate fear that months of civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri will end in rioting

On 9 August 2014, Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis) Police Department, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. Officer Wilson is white and Michael Brown was black, sparking allegations from wide swaths of the local and national black community that Wilson’s shooting of Brown, and the Ferguson Police Department’s reluctance to arrest the officer, are both racially motivated events that smack of an historic trend of black inequality within the US criminal justice system.

The fact that the Ferguson Police Department and city government are predominantly white, while the town is predominantly black, has underscored this distrust. So too have recent events in Los Angeles, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, St. Louis, and other places that suggest a disturbing pattern of white police personnel’s use of excessive force in the beatings or deaths of blacks across the nation. So disturbing, in fact, that this case and the others linked to it not only have inspired an organic, and diverse, crop of youth activists, but also have captured the close attention of President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, national civil rights organizations and the national black leadership. Indeed, not one or two, but three concurrent investigations of Officer Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown are ongoing—one by the St. Louis Police Department and the other two by the FBI and the Justice Department, who are concerned with possible civil rights violations. The case also has a significant international following. The parents of Michael Brown raised this profile recently when they testified in Geneva, Switzerland before the United Nations Committee against Torture. There, they joined a US delegation to plead for support to end police brutality aimed at profiled black youth.

The details of the shooting investigations, each bit eagerly seized by opposing sides (those who support Brown and those who defend Wilson) as they become publicly available, still don’t give a comprehensive view of what actually happened between the officer and the teen, leaving too much speculation as to whether or not the Ferguson Grand Jury, who have been considering the case since 20 August, will return an indictment(s) against Officer Wilson.

Protest at Ferguson Police Dept, by
Protest at Ferguson Police Dept, by Jamelle Bouie. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

What is known of the incident is that about noon on that Saturday, Michael Brown and a friend, Dorian Johnson, were walking down Canefield Drive in Ferguson when Darren Wilson approached the two in his squad car, telling them to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk. A scuffle ensued between Brown and Wilson within the police car. In his defense, Officer Wilson has stated that Brown attacked him and tried to grab his weapon. Dorian Johnson has countered that Wilson pulled Michael Brown into his car, suggesting that Brown was trying to defend himself from an overly aggressive Wilson. Shots were fired in Wilson’s police car and Brown ran down the street, pursued by Wilson. Autopsy reports indicate that Brown was shot at least six times, four times in his left arm, once through his left eye and once in the top of his head. The latter caused the youth’s death. Michael Brown’s body lay in the street, uncovered, for several hours while the police conducted a preliminary investigation, prompting even more outrage by black onlookers.

Since Michael Brown’s death, protestors from the area and across the nation have occupied the streets of Ferguson, demanding justice for the slain teen and his family. Nights of initial confrontations between police forces (the Ferguson Police, the St. Louis Police, the Missouri State Troopers and the National Guard have all been deployed in Ferguson at some time, and in some capacity, since the shooting) and though there has been some arson, looting, protestor and police violence, and arrests—even of news reporters—the protests generally have been peaceful. Not only police action during these protests, but their equipment as well, have sparked criticism and the growing demand that law enforcement agencies demilitarize. The daily protests have persisted, at times growing in great number, as during a series of “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” events that were held not just in Ferguson, but in many cities nationwide, including Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Omaha, Nebraska in August and September. The “hands up” stance is to protest Brown’s shooting which some, but not all, witnesses have stated came even with Brown’s hands up in a gesture of surrender to Wilson.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, and other state and local officials, along with many of the residents of Ferguson, fear that if the Grand Jury does not indict Darren Wilson for Michael Brown’s murder, civil unrest will erupt into violence, producing an event similar to the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. In Los Angeles, large numbers of persons rioted when it seemed that the legal outcomes of two back-to-back criminal cases smacked of black injustice—the acquittal of four white police officers indicted in the assault of black motorist Rodney King, and the no jail-time sentence of a Korean shopkeeper found guilty for the murder of Latasha Harlins, a black teen. The result was the worst race riot in US history, with more than 50 people killed, the burning of a substantial portion of the ethnic business enclave of Koreatown, and at least a billion dollars in property damage.

Certainly the fear is a legitimate one. The vast majority of US race riots that have centered on black participation have occurred with like conditions as a spark—the community’s belief that a youth or vulnerable person among them has been brutalized with state sanction. The nation has witnessed these events not only in Los Angeles in 1965 and 1992; but also in Harlem in 1935 and 1964; Richmond, California in 1968; San Francisco in 1986; Tampa, Florida in 1967 and 1986; Miami in 1980; Newark, New Jersey in 1967; York, Pennsylvania in 1969; Crown Heights (Brooklyn), New York in 1991; St. Petersburg, Florida in 1996; Cincinnati, Ohio in 2001; Benton Harbor, Michigan in 2003; Oakland, California in 2009 and 2010, and the list goes on. These events all have served as cautionary tales that, unfortunately, have not resulted in either the perception or reality of black equality before the law. It is this legacy that frustrates and frightens Ferguson residents.

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16. Vaping and the data on e-cigarettes

Oxford Dictionaries has selected vape as Word of the Year 2014, so we asked several experts to comment on the growth of electronic cigarettes and the vaping phenomenon.

Vaping is the term for using an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette). Since e-cigarettes involve inhaling vapour rather than smoke, it is distinct from smoking. The vapour looks a somewhat like cigarette smoke but dissipates much more quickly and has very little odour since it mostly consist of water droplets.

E-cigarettes started to become popular around 2010 and it is estimated they are currently being used by more than 2 million people in the United Kingdom and more than 5 million in the United States. Their sale is banned in many countries, including Australia and Canada, although surveys show that use in these is widespread since they can easily be obtained via the Internet.

E-cigarettes are devices in which a battery-powered heating element vaporises an ‘e-liquid’ usually containing propylene glycol or glycerol, nicotine, and flavourings. They are designed to provide much of the experience of smoking but with much lower risk, less annoyance to bystanders, and usually much more cheaply. Because they do not involve burning of tobacco, the concentrations of toxins in the vapour are typically a tiny fraction of those in cigarette smoke. The precise risk from using them is not known, but based on the vapour constituents it would be expected to be between 1% and 5% that of smoking.

Data on e-cigarette use are not available for most countries. By far the most complete data come from England where the ‘Smoking Toolkit Study’ (STS) collects data on usage from nationally representative samples of adults every month enabling this to be tracked closely over time. This study was established to track ‘key performance indicators’ relating to smoking and smoking cessation and has been going since 2007. Action on Smoking and Health also conduct large national surveys of adults and young people each year. Large scale surveys are also being conducted in the United States and some other countries. The data show that most people use e-cigarettes in an effort to protect their health either by stopping smoking altogether or cutting down. Despite misleading claims by some anti- e-cigarette advocates, use by never-smokers and long-term ex-smokers is extremely rare in the UK and US at present, and in England its prevalence in never-smokers and long-term ex-smokers is similar to the use of ‘licensed nicotine products’ (LNPs) such as nicotine patches, gum, or lozenges.

E-cigarettes come in many different forms. In England, the most commonly used ones at present are known as ‘cigalikes’ because they look something like a cigarette and often have a tip that glows when the user takes a puff. Becoming more popular are devices that involve a refillable ‘tank’. There are also more sophisticated ‘mod’ systems which are highly customised. These are often the choice of aficionados.

Most e-cigarette users probably obtain less nicotine from these devices than people typically do from cigarettes, but experienced vapers using tank systems or mods can obtain at least as much nicotine from their devices as do smokers.

When used in a quit attempt, on average e-cigarettes seem to improve the chances of successful quitting by about 50%, similar to licensed nicotine products when used as directed. The main difference appears to be that these devices are much more popular, and they seem to be effective when people use them without any support from a health professional. Currently the evidence still indicates that use of the drug varenicline or a licensed nicotine product with specialist behavioural support provides the best chance of quitting for those smokers who are willing to use this support and where such support is available.

Electronic Cigarettes by George Hodan via PublicDomainPictures.net.
Electronic Cigarettes by George Hodan via PublicDomainPictures.net.

When used for cutting down, daily (but not non-daily) use of e-cigarettes seems to be associated with a modest reduction in cigarette consumption on average. Use of licensed nicotine products for cutting down has been found to be associated with an increased likelihood of later smoking cessation. This has not yet been demonstrated for e-cigarettes, although smokers who use e-cigarettes daily do try to quit smoking more often than those who are not ‘dual users’.

Despite claims from some anti- e-cigarette advocates, in England and the United States, e-cigarettes are currently not acting as a ‘gateway’ to smoking in adolescents or ‘renormalising’ smoking. Youth and adult smoking have continued to decline steadily as e-cigarette use has grown and in England adult smoking cessation rates are somewhat higher than they were before e-cigarettes started to become popular. E-cigarette use in indoor public areas has not led to any increase in smoking in these areas in the UK and compliance with smoke-free legislation remains extremely high.

Some e-cigarette advertising seeks to glamorise vaping and in some countries appears to blur the boundaries between smoking and vaping. This has led to concern that it might make vaping attractive to non-smokers and countries such as the UK have regulated to prevent this.

There is some controversy over vaping. A number of high-profile public health advocates have engaged in what appears to be a propaganda campaign against them, creating an impression in the public consciousness that they are more dangerous than they are and that they are undermining tobacco control efforts when the evidence does not support this. It is reasonable to be concerned about what may happen in the future with tobacco companies dominating the e-cigarette market and being incentivised to maximise tobacco sales, but much of the anti- e-cigarette propaganda appears to be motivated more by a puritanical ethic than a dispassionate assessment of the evidence. Maximising the public heath opportunity presented by e-cigarettes, while minimising the potential threat, requires collecting good data, using this information to construct an appropriate regulatory strategy, and monitoring the situation closely to adjust the strategy as required. England appears to be leading the way in this approach designed to encourage smokers to use e-cigarettes to stop smoking, while not undermining use of potentially more effective quitting methods, and preventing e-cigarettes becoming a gateway into smoking. The Smoking Toolkit Study, the ASH surveys, and other research will continue to provide essential information needed to inform this strategy.

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17. Vaping in the old tobacco and new marijuana industries

Oxford Dictionaries has selected vape as Word of the Year 2014, so we asked several experts to comment on the growth of electronic cigarettes and the vaping phenomenon.

Vape is a fascinating Word of the Year. Not only is the word new and important, but so is the actual activity. That’s different from merely coining a cute new label for a longstanding practice.

First, some clarification. Various drugs can be “smoked” or “vaporized”. Smoking involves combustion, as in “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” By contrast, when something is vaporized it is heated – using heat from an external source – to volatilize the molecules. Water vapor is the familiar example; steam is not produced by burning water.

The distinction matters for many drugs. Burning cocaine decomposes it into byproducts that are not psychoactive. Vaporized cocaine base is crack.

Burning tobacco releases smoke that is full of not only nicotine but also carcinogens. The nicotine is addictive but not carcinogenic. E-cigarettes provide the nicotine – and nicotine addiction – without those tars or hot gasses. (Nicotine evaporates at a much lower temperature than is created when tobacco burns.)

It’s not that e-cigarettes are healthy. Constant dosing with nicotine is bad for your heart. However, compared to the most deadly consumer product in history, e-cigarettes aren’t as bad. When I polled a number of medical colleagues, their best guesses – and they stressed at this point they are only guesses – were that all things considered, e-cigarettes will kill at something like one-tenth the rate per year of use as do conventional cigarettes. That could make e-cigarettes a life saver – unless they become a new gateway to nicotine addiction for adolescents who later convert to combusted tobacco products.

With marijuana, people traditionally mostly smoked the flowering tops (“buds”) of the cannabis plant in a joint (cigarette) or bong (water pipe). However, the recent liberalization of marijuana policy has made consumption of THC “extracts” more common. (You can also vape buds, but the trend is toward concentrates.)

Vaping is a boon to both the old tobacco and the new marijuana industries because it solves their fundamental problem: how to ensure long-term demand when these days almost no mature adult initiates use of a new dependence-inducing psychoactive. The vast majority of people who smoke tobacco or marijuana start before the age of 21; indeed, usually by age 16. Kids know cigarettes are deadly, and have lagged in the recent upsurge in marijuana use.

Electronic Cigarette by George Hodan via PublicDomainPictures.net.
Electronic Cigarette by George Hodan via PublicDomainPictures.net.

Cue the cavalry to the rescue in the form of all these fruit flavors, such as bubble gum, caramel candy, root beer, and mango, that appeal to kids. Originally tobacco companies were indifferent to e-cigarettes. Originally they were used mostly by established smokers, and it wasn’t clear whether they were more of an aid for those quitting (akin to nicotine gum) or a way to retain smokers by making hours spent in smoke-free restaurants and workplaces more tolerable.

The marijuana industry was not similarly conflicted because much of the THC in a cannabis plant is locked up in leaves and other parts that are not desirable in today’s market as “usable marijuana”. It has always been technically possible to extract that THC, but doing so efficiently requires a moderately large extraction machine – something whose presence used to be difficult to explain to the police or nosy neighbors. But once producing marijuana products became legal (albeit still only under state law), there were no qualms about owning an extraction machine and recovering all that additional THC.

Cheap THC extraction created a new problem: how to sell it to a marketplace that was focused on joints and bongs. A certain amount could be baked into brownies, mixed into beverages or ointments, or sold as dabs to hardcore users, but the killer app was vape pens. Vape pens are close to odorless, letting kids use at home without their parents knowing; they are easy to flavor; and they create an element of style. The same creativity that went into filling head shops with endless variations on the basic bong has been channeled into vape pens with features such as puff counters, batteries that plug into USB ports, and LED temperature indicators, as well as styling features ranging from classy gold plate to ninja turtle figurines and Snoop Dog endorsements.

The word vape itself is also key to this transformation. The scary word cigarette is part of the phrase e-cigarette, but vaping is new, chic, and as-of-yet decoupled from associations with cancer and heart disease.

All of this has made vaping trendy in a way it hadn’t been when e-cigarettes first hit the market, and now the big tobacco companies are jumping in with both feet, buying up small e-cigarette companies and putting their marketing muscle behind the trend. They smell opportunity; whereas it is illegal to flavor tobacco, there is no barrier to marketing kid-friendly fruit-flavored nicotine for e-cigarettes.

What remains to be seen is how the industry will evolve if and when marijuana is legalized nationwide. Will tobacco companies buy out the still small marijuana firms? Will they – or the marijuana companies – sell cartridges that come with nicotine and THC premixed? Or will this vaping fad disappear like a puff of vapor?

Hard to say. But right now, vape is the Word of Year.

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18. The rise of electronic cigarettes and their impact on public health

Oxford Dictionaries has selected vape as Word of the Year 2014, so we asked several experts to comment on the growth of electronic cigarettes and the vaping phenomenon.

A new report from the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention shows that use of e-cigarettes among high schools students has tripled in two years. The finding raises the question is vaping—the use of tobacco-free electronic cigarettes—an important tool for helping smokers quit or a ploy by Big Tobacco to addict another generation of young people to nicotine? Public health experts are poring over the modest evidence on the health consequences of e-cigarettes to find guidance for policy.

What is clear is that vaping—inhaling and exhaling vaporized nicotine liquid produced by an electronic cigarette—is on the rise not only in the United States but elsewhere. In the United Kingdom, the percent of current smokers had ever tried electronic cigarettes rose from 8.2 in 2010 to 50.6 in 2014.

Big Tobacco has jumped into the e-cigarette business with gusto. By the end of 2013, British American Tobacco, Lorillard, Philip Morris International and Reynolds—key players in the multinational tobacco business—had each bought e-cigarettes companies. While e-cigarettes still constitute a fraction of the tobacco business, their market share has grown rapidly. Retail sales value of e-cigarettes worldwide for 2013 was $2.5 billion and Wells Fargo estimates sales will top $10 billion by 2017.

Supporters of e-cigarettes argue that by satisfying the craving for nicotine these devices can wean smokers from tobacco, reducing the harm from inhaling more than 5,000 chemicals—many of them carcinogenic. Some studies have found that e-cigarettes were modestly effective at helping tobacco smokers to quit. Proponents believe that some tobacco use is inevitable for the foreseeable future so making e-cigarettes available helps reduce the world’s main cause of premature death. They compare e-cigarettes to offering injecting drug users free clean needles, a policy demonstrated to reduce HIV transmission.

Critics reject these arguments. They point to evidence that vaping exposes users to dangerous toxics, including cancer-causing formaldehyde. Of greatest concern, opponents fear that vaping will addict new users to nicotine, serving as a gateway to tobacco use. Some preliminary evidence supports this view. They also worry that e-cigarettes will re-glamorize smoking, undermining the changing social norms that have led to sharp declines in tobacco use.

Electronic Cigarette by George Hodan via PublicDomainPictures.net.
Electronic Cigarette by George Hodan via PublicDomainPictures.net.

The inconclusive evidence raises some basic questions. How do we make policy decisions in the face of uncertainty? In setting e-cigarette policy, what are appropriate roles for the market and government? Finally, in a political system where corporate interests have shown a growing capacity to manipulate the rules to achieve their goals, how can the public interest be best protected?

Over the past century, two warring principles have guided policy on consumer rights. The first, caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, says consumers have the obligation to find out what they can about the products they choose to consume. The more recent precautionary principle argues instead that producers should introduce only goods that are proved safe. For e-cigarettes, this would put the onus on manufacturers to demonstrate in advance of widespread marketing that the alleged benefits of vaping outweigh its potential costs. Few researchers believe that such evidence now exists.

The history of Big Tobacco suggest that no industry is less qualified to set public health policy than the corporations that are buying up e-cigarette companies. In her 2006 decision in the United States racketeering trial against the tobacco industry, Judge Gladys Kessler wrote that the tobacco industry “survives, and profits from selling a highly addictive product which causes diseases that lead to … an immeasurable amount of human suffering and economic loss, and a profound burden on our national health care system. Defendants have known many of these facts for at least 50 years or more. Despite that knowledge, they have consistently, repeatedly and with enormous skill and sophistication, denied these facts to the public, the Government, and to the public health community.”

Already the industry’s e-cigarette practices raise concerns. For example, companies have marketed products in flavors like cherry, vanilla, and cookies and cream milkshake. Their advertising has used the same sexual and risk-taking imagery employed to market tobacco to young people. Significantly, manufacturers decided not to promote their products primarily as smoking cessation devices, an approach that would have emphasized public health benefits, but instead as a glamorous, sophisticated new product. This strategy increases the likelihood that the product will create new generations of nicotine addicts rather than help smokers to quit.

Leaving e-cigarette policy in the hands of industry invites Big Tobacco to continue its deceptive practices and use its political resources to undermine public policy. The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave the US Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco. In 2014, the FDA proposed new rules to regulate e-cigarettes. These rules would set the minimum age of 18 to use e-cigarettes, prohibit most sales in vending machines, mandate warning labels, and ban free samples. As these rules work their way through the system, advocates have suggested the need for additional rules including a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, limits on marketing, and strict oversight of the truthfulness of health claims.

Lax public health protection from lethal but legal products such as tobacco, foods high in sugar and fat, alcohol, firearms, and automobiles has produced a growing burden of premature deaths and preventable injuries and illnesses. Around the world, chronic diseases and injuries are now the main killers and impose the highest costs on health systems and tax payers. Allowing Big Tobacco to use e-cigarettes to write a new chapter in this sorry history would be a step in the wrong direction.

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19. The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is…vape

As 2014 draws to a close, it’s time to look back and see which words have been significant throughout the past twelve months, and to announce the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year. Without further ado, we can exclusively reveal that the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2014 is…

vape

Although there is a shortlist of strong contenders, as you’ll see below, it was vape that emerged victorious as Word of the Year.

What does vape mean?

So, what does vape mean? It originated as an abbreviation of vapour or vaporize. The OxfordDictionaries.com definition was added in August 2014: the verb means ‘to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device’, while both the device and the action can also be known as a vape. The associated noun vaping is also listed.

Why was vape chosen?

As e-cigarettes (or e-cigs) have become much more common, so vape has grown significantly in popularity. You are thirty times more likely to come across the word vape than you were two years ago, and usage has more than doubled in the past year.

Usage of vape peaked in April 2014 — as the graph below indicates — around the time that the UK’s first ‘vape café’ (The Vape Lab in Shoreditch, London) opened its doors, and protests were held in response to New York City banning indoor vaping. In the same month, the issue of vaping was debated by The Washington Post, the BBC, and the British newspaper The Telegraph, amongst others.

The language of vaping

Vape is also the modifier for other nouns, creating new compound nouns which are growing in popularity. The most common of these are vape pen and vape shop, and there is also recent evidence for vape lounge, vape fluid, vape juice, and others. Related coinages include e-juice, cartos, and vaporium — as well as the retronym tobacco cigarette for traditional cigarettes. (A retronym is a new term created from an existing word in order to distinguish the original word from a later development — for example, acoustic guitar developing after the advent of the electric guitar.)

Vape before vaping

You may be surprised to learn that the word vaping existed before the phenomenon. Although e-cigarettes weren’t commercially available until the 21st century, a 1983 article in New Society entitled ‘Why do People Smoke?’ contains the first known usage of the term. The author, Rob Stepney, described what was then a hypothetical device:

“an inhaler or ‘non-combustible’ cigarette, looking much like the real thing, but…delivering a metered dose of nicotine vapour. (The new habit, if it catches on, would be known as vaping.)”

However, despite these early beginnings, Oxford Dictionaries research shows that it wasn’t until 2009 that this sense of vape (and vaping) started to appear regularly in mainstream sources.

closeup of woman smoking electronic cigarette outdoor
© diego_cervo via iStockphoto.

The shortlist

Here are the words that came close, but didn’t quite make it as Word of the Year:

bae n. used as a term of endearment for one’s romantic partner.

budtender n. a person whose job is to serve customers in a cannabis dispensary or shop.

contactless adj. relating to or involving technologies that allow a smart card, mobile phone, etc. to contact wirelessly to an electronic reader, typically in order to make a payment.

indyref, n. an abbreviation of ‘independence referendum’, in reference to the referendum on Scottish independence, held in Scotland on 18 September 2014, in which voters were asked to answer yes or no to the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

normcore n. a trend in which ordinary, unfashionable clothing is worn as a deliberate fashion statement.

slacktivism, n., informal actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website; a blend of slacker and activism.

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20. How did we get from snuff to vaping?

Vaping is having an interesting cultural moment. Use of the word is increasing rapidly, as the Oxford Dictionaries editors note, although many people are still unfamiliar with it. (In a totally scientific survey of ten 40-year-old parents on the playground of my son’s school, none had heard the word before. In my husband’s university department, some of the graduate students used the word, but the consensus among the faculty was that to vape meant to live life as a Visiting Assistant Professor.) This increased use comes as people attempt to define boundaries for the activity, to figure out where it is socially acceptable, and where it is not. Is vaping like smoking, and thus offensive and possibly dangerous to non-vapers? Or is it more like chewing gum — not polite, exactly, but something you might do surreptitiously at work or in a movie theater? Would you vape in a childcare center? In a hospital? These are not just questions of etiquette, but also of law — will vapers, like smokers, be required to keep a distance of 15 to 25 feet from any doors or windows?

The word vaping has already caused devotees of juice (the liquid used in e-cigarettes) to lose the first battle in the propaganda war. Vaping carries overtones of illicit drug use — vaporizers provided a cleaner high for marijuana-smokers for years before they were used in e-cigarettes — and sounds, as was reported in The Guardian last year, “worryingly like a form of sexual assault, or a bewilderingly ill-advised 1980s dance craze.” Let’s look now at some words from smoking’s history, to see how earlier battles over tobacco use played out, and how current questions about vaping might be resolved.

765px-Innokin_SVD
Innokin SVD by FergusM1970. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Like many of our other good stimulants, tobacco was brought to Europe from the Americas, first imported by the Spanish in the early 16th century. Tobacco (first English use, 1577) comes from Native American words for a pipe or a sort of cigar, which the Spanish assumed referred to the leaves of the plant itself. Columbus’s conscience, Friar Bartolomé de las Casas, described how when their expedition landed in Cuba, they found the Taino smoking these cigar-like “tabacos,” “by which they become benumbed and almost drunk, and so it is said they do not feel fatigue.” It was not a forgone conclusion that tobacco would be the English name for this miraculous plant — other candidates at the time were petum (1568), possibly derived from another Native American word, and nicotian (1577), from Jean Nicot, who brought the plant to France for the first time. (Nicot eventually gave his name to the tobacco genus, Nicotiana, as well as to its chemical of interest, nicotine (1817)).

Growing more and more popular with every passing year, tobacco seemed to be doing just fine with its common name, but others were coined for it to better advertise what were seen as its incredible health benefits — the holy herb, the queen mother herb, God’s remedy, and panacea (all 16th century). A panacea is a medicine reputed to cure all diseases, a tall order, but one that it was more than capable of fulfilling, according to proponents such as Anthony Chute, author of Tabaco (1595). The green leaves of the plant could cure any sort of laceration or skin ulcer, from a finger nigh severed by a giant chopping knife to the King’s Evil (Scrofula), the Canker, the Wolfe, and noli me tangere (“don’t touch me”), increasingly awful skin diseases. The smoke was thought to be even more efficacious, because of the humoral theory of medicine that held sway at the time. A healthy body had the proper balance of four humors, blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm, which gave it the proper temperature and moisture. Tobacco smoke was very hot and dry, and so could cure diseases in which the patient was excessively cold and moist — all kinds of coughs, rheums, bowel problems, and, the epitome of cold and wet, drowning.

The “native English” way of getting smoke into the body was the clyster (1398), or glyster — a tobacco enema. It was superseded by the pipe, a Native American invention and a more social way to smoke, but the original practice survived until the mid-19th century as the best way to revive drowning victims, and is still around in the expression to blow smoke up your ass, meaning “to give insincere compliments.” (Though wonderful, this derivation of the idiom is possibly apocryphal. There is a long and independent association between “empty words” and wind, smoke, or vapor.)

Like vaping today, there were questions about the social acceptability of “drinking tobacco,” as smoking was called. Was it genteel for women to smoke, for example? On one hand, smoking was good for women, who were constitutionally a little bit too cold and damp. On the other hand, smoking involved sucking on something in public, generally a no-no. Early tobacco pipes also tended to produce quite a lot of brown, sticky saliva, which stained clothing, created a funk (a strong stink, 1623), and needed to be spit somewhere, often on the floor, until the development of the spittoon (1840). Tobacco use gained its widest social acceptance with the rise of snuff (1683), finely ground tobacco snorted through the nose, which neatly avoided all these problems.

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Painting of a man taking snuff using the thumb & forefinger method. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Taking snuff has many similarities with vaping. It required lots of accoutrements, all of which could show off one’s individuality, relative wealth, and taste. Vapers today can buy standard, preassembled e-cigs and tobacco-flavored juice, but many people prefer to customize their equipment, especially if they drip. Dripping involves putting a few drops of juice directly on the coil of an e-cig atomizer (the heating element) instead of using a cartridge with a reservoir of liquid and a wick, which according to drippers (?)…drips (?)…advocates of dripping, provides a purer taste and the option of changing flavors more frequently. It requires vapers to assemble their e-cigs themselves, choosing an atomizer, a drip tip (the part you put in your mouth), possibly a drip shield, and a variety juice flavors, from the hundreds available — “Mother’s Milk” (“a creamy custard with a sweet strawberry exhale”), for example, or “Boba’s Bounty” (“tobacco, honey, and marshmallow”). Snuff-takers needed a snuff-box — some devotees had hundreds, beautifully decorated — a rasp, to grind the tobacco leaves, a tiny spoon if they preferred not to dirty their fingers, and a dark-patterned handkerchief to catch their sneezes and clean their nostrils. Like juice, snuff could be colored and flavored in hundreds of combinations, including orange flower, rose, bergamot, musk, and tonka bean (a flavor like vanilla, now banned by the FDA for containing coumarin, which in high doses can damage the liver).

Two_snuff_boxes_shaped_like_a_pair_of_lady's_boots,_England,_Wellcome_L0057138
Two snuff boxes shaped like a pair of lady’s boots, England. Science Museum, London, Wellcome Images. CC-BY-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Vaping has many of the same things going for it that snuff did — it appeals to a knowledgeable, somewhat moneyed, consumer and offers a way to display individuality and discernment. Now all it needs is a better name…any ideas?

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21. Scholarly reflections on ‘vape’

Electronic cigarettes are growing in popularity around the world. With the announcement of vape as our Word of the Year, we asked a number of scholars for their thoughts on this new word and emerging phenomenon.

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“Electronic cigarettes (ECIGs) are a rapidly evolving group of products that are designed to deliver aerosolized nicotine to the user. If ECIGs are used in the short-term to help smokers quit tobacco use completely and then eliminate all nicotine intake, they have some potential to reduce the health risks that smokers face. However, ECIGs also present a potential public health challenge because of uncertainty regarding the long-term health effects of inhalation of an aerosol that contains, in addition to the dependence-producing drug nicotine, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavorants, and a variety of other chemicals. Very recent data demonstrate that ECIGs can be as effective as tobacco cigarettes in terms of the amount of nicotine delivered, raising the possibility that they also may be equally addictive. If ECIGs are as addictive as tobacco cigarettes, quitting them may be difficult for smokers who used them to stop smoking and for non-smokers, young and old, who began using them because ECIGs are marketed aggressively and flavored attractively. The rapid evolution of the product, coupled with the unknown effects of long-term inhalation of the aerosol highlight the need for ongoing, objective, empirical evaluation of these products with the goal of minimizing risk to individual and public health.”
Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Co-director, Center for the Study of Tobacco Products, at Virginia Commonwealth University

Electronic_Cigarette_Smoking
Electronic Cigarette Smoking by . CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Vape is a practical solution to a recently-arisen lexical gap that points up the genius of English lexical expansion. It supplies a simple verb with predictable inflections (vaping, vaped), built on an already familiar pattern of consonant-vowel-consonant-silent e (as in bake, file, poke, rule, and hundreds of others). Vape also conforms to the one-syllable pattern of many verbs, standard and informal, denoting ingestion: eat, drink, chug, quaff, smoke, snarf, snort, whiff. Although the root vapor is from Latin, speakers have effortlessly nativized it by removing the unneeded second syllable.”

Orin Hargraves, lexicographer, researcher of the computational use of language at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and author of many books, including It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches.

Vape is a great choice for Word of the Year, not just because 2014 was the Year of Vaping, but because it is aesthetically perfect for marketing vaporizing paraphernalia and taking over the eroding market for traditional smoking products. Think about it: smoking. It’s really an unattractive word related to other unattractive words, like choking and hacking. Hold that /o/ long enough and you’ll cough by the time you hit the /k/. Vape is hip — new vowels, new consonants, new look, same old addiction. It’s a stunning verbal makeover.”

Michael Adams, Indiana University at Bloomington, author of Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon, Slang: The People’s Poetry, editor of From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages.

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Headline image credit: Electronic Cigarettes by George Hodan via Public Domain Images.

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22. Place of the Year 2014 nominee spotlight: Scotland [quiz]

As voting on the Place of the Year shortlist continues, we’d like to spotlight a second contender in the race – Scotland. Scotland drew the world’s attention this year as a referendum was held for the country’s independence in September 2014. Test your knowledge of the country by answering the following questions.

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  


The Place of the Year 2014 shortlist

Keep voting and following along with #POTY2014 until our announcement on 1 December to see which location will join previous Place of the Year winners.

Image credit: Largs Pencil by Dave souza. CC-BY-SA-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

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23. Reflections on the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of The Death of Klinghoffer

The question is not whether it was appropriate for the Metropolitan Opera to stage this important and controversial piece, but rather, did they do it right? Did they mount it so that its poetic, dramatic and musical potential was well realized?

The challenge is great. Poet Alice Goodman’s libretto operates on multiple levels. Using poetic imagery, she not only explores the stories of the individual characters and some elements of the complex relationship between Jews and Palestinians but also larger human dilemmas. She sets the specifics in the context of the elements: earth (desert), water (ocean) and the sun (which effectively burns with fierce intensity throughout much of the second act of this production.)

The director, Tom Morris, has added the plant kingdom. Building on the Exiled Jews’ line, “the forest planted in memory,” he has the chorus bring on a small forest of young saplings – many of which are produced from large trunks. In so doing, he adds additional layers of meaning and memory – both that of the reforestation of Israel, but also that of the baggage of refugees everywhere, and specifically of the luggage lugged with false hopes to the camps.

It is at once a piece recalled in memory and an evocation of a present reality. As a memory piece Goodman does not need to tell the story sequentially and is free to present the events from multiple perspectives.

Here, too, Morris and his set designer, Tom Pye, have effectively amplified the libretto. By manipulating the set pieces they show us the killing of Klinghoffer first from the back and then from the front – vividly embodying different views. They also chose to portray the moment when Omar, a young terrorist, shoots – shifting our perspective in a different way. It effectively destroys any sympathy that we might have developed for him in his earlier aria/dance.

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Metropolitan Opera House, by Niall Kennedy. CC-BY-NC-2.0 via Flickr.

The success of this production stands on three pillars. One is the strong and subtle conducting of David Robertson. A second is the casting. The singing was uniformly excellent and the principals were believable. Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer (Alan Opie & Michaela Martens) presented a particularly interesting casting challenge, since it is crucial that their voices are beautiful and yet have an appropriately mature timbre. Both these demands were satisfyingly met. The third pillar of the success lies in the decision to reject the more abstract and cerebral approach taken in the original productions and to ground the work in particular and recognizable locales with the performers costumed in character-appropriate clothes.

The production team also chose not to represent Leon and Marilyn with dance doubles as was originally done, which increased our ability to empathize with their suffering. The convention was, however, retained for Omar. His is a mute role but for one major aria in which the piece takes the irredeemable step from threat to murder. The aria was sung by a woman in a dark burqa. However, she was not alone with him. On a receding diagonal behind her stood a line of identically dressed women evoking generations of tradition handed from mother to son. As she sang, Omar went through painful convulsions–of indecision? of fear? After the aria, he began his fateful walk towards Klinghoffer, gun in hand.

The set established three different locales – the first two were fluid and sometimes simultaneous. One was a lecture hall (or theater) represented by a lectern stage left; the other was the cruise ship, Achille Lauro, represented by railing pieces, deck chairs and by two moveable double-level ship’s deck units. When the Captain lies to the authorities about the violence onboard, the lectern becomes integrated with the ship as a stand for the phone. This choice effectively forces him to move out of memory to re-living one of his most painful choices during the high-jacking.

The final scene, in which the Captain admits to Marilyn that the terrorists have killed her husband, has a setting all its own. Inexorably, two giant panels close in – reducing the stage to a triangular space empty but for a single chair. Are we in the ship’s hold? Are we in a truth chamber or one of horrors? We don’t know, but it is a formidable and unforgiving space. And, indeed, neither the Captain nor Marilyn can escape.

Over a period of two dozen years, the director Peter Sellars brought together the team of John Adams and Alice Goodman to co-create three vitally important works: Nixon in China (1987), The Death of Klinghoffer (1991) and Dr. Atomic (2005). All are based on recent events with profound implications for our times. All three are oratorio-like. The stories are dramatic but their form is static. And yet we are drawn to these pieces. Confronted by the issues they embody – as we are in our media, our wallets and in the political choices made by our leaders, do we cry out for a distanced format? Do we seek a cool presentation that gives us time to review and reflect? Surely. And yet, in these quasi-operas, I miss the visceral excitement generated by works in which conflicts between unique individuals are directly portrayed in singing and acting. For me, the success of the Met’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer is that it restores some of this urgency, vitality and feeling.

Headline image credit: Full House at the Metropolitan Opera. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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24. A guide to European cartels

On Tuesday 25th and Wednesday 26th November we are looking forward to returning to Brussels for the IBC Advanced EU Competition Law. The conference will see some of the leading competition lawyers, regulators, competition authorities, economists, legal advisors, and academics come together to discuss cartels, private enforcement, vertical restraints, state aid, mergers, and more. To find out what you can expect from the conference, watch the video highlights from last year, including a clip of our very own Francesca Halstead.

One of the key discussion topics this year focuses on cartels. We have been doing our homework and have prepared this infographic which examines legislative updates from the UK and key cases from around the EU, from the Finnish Asphalt Cartel to the Romanian Construction Cartel, and many more in-between. It also shows a step-by-step summary of the Settlement Process, and summarises the Leniency Notice. Content has been taken from Oxford Competition Law and made free to access so that you can prepare and be up-to-date ahead of the conference.

Oxford Competition Law is the only fully integrated service to combine world-renowned market-leading commentaries with rigorous, selective National case reports and analysis from EU member states. Please do stop by our stand to find out more about our latest publishing, and claim your free trial to Oxford Competition Law.

OCL-Europe-Cartels-Infographic-Web

If you would like to view this infographic as an interactive PDF, please click here to discover more about Competition Law.

Headline image credit: Justice Painting, by Hans. Public domain via Pixabay.

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25. What do we love about new words?

Oxford Dictionaries has selected vape as Word of the Year 2014, so we asked several experts to comment on language and the words that defined this past year.

The lexicographers at Oxford Dictionaries keep watch on our collective neology and select a word—or words–of the year: a word that is both forward-looking and reflects the culture of the current year. From 2004 we’ve had chav, podcast, carbon-neutral, locavore, hypermiling, unfriend, refudiate, squeezed middle, the verb GIF, and selfie. And in the UK, which has somewhat different sensibilities, the list reads chav, sudoku, bovvered, carbon footprint, credit crunch, simples, big society, omnishambles and selfie. The Word of the Year for 2014 is vape, edging out the short-listed finalists slacktivism, normcore, contactless, bae, budtender, and IndyRef.

Next week, I’ll be making a quiz of these words to see which students know and use. In class, we’ve been discussing how new words are created.

We talk about fixation: pre- (unfriend), suf- (selfie), in- (congratu-effin-ations), and circum- (embiggen). We explore the homonymy of prefixes and suffixes, and meaning of the word inflammable, which prompts discussion of the difference between ingrate and ingratiate. One student asks–in jest–why infallible doesn’t mean “able to fall into.”

We talk about acronyms and initialisms and the evolution of LOL and FAQ from “el-oh-el” and “ef-ay-que” to “loll” and “fak.” I find that my students are great verbers of nouns: They Facebook. They GIF. They gym. They library. They also reduplicate, compounding words to specify or intensify. I ask them the difference between a writer writer and a writer’s writer. “One makes a living and one doesn’t,” someone offers.

Our discussion goes on to the whys of word creation. New words encapsulate current ideas but also to express our identities as language users—irony, rebellion, erudition—and to characterize others, like the 2004 Word of the Year, chav, the British epithet for loutish youth in designer clothes. We talk about the accidental and logical leaps made by language users and how some of them end up as folk creations, like refudiate, the 2010 Word of the Year. I recount my own childhood confusion over hearing on television that American soldiers were fighting “gorillas” in Southeast Asia and tell them of the rejected job applicant who felt his department was often “the escape goat.” I offer my prediction that in fifty years the spelling segue will be edged out by the spelling Segway.

I always learn something new from the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year list, and I’m often surprised by my own and my students’ reactions to new usages.

Clippings frequently rub me the wrong way for some reason. When I am in a conversation where someone used words like cran, vacay, and bro, the usages somehow feel much too familiar, like a telemarketer addressing me by my first name. Abbreviations can be annoying too, as if the speaker assumes I am as immersed in some topic as they are and know all the shorthand. IMHO.

I’m enamored of blends though, and I smile at the recollection of the first time I came across the word hangry in a tweet from a former student. To me blends are verbal magic tricks: words sawed in half and magically rejoined. I always think of publisher Bennett Cerf’s description of Groucho Marx as someone who looks at words “upside down, backwards, from the middle out to the end, and from the end back to the middle. Next he drops them in a mental Mixmaster, and studies them some more.” Groucho would have loved the Urban Dictionary’s blend bananus, for the brown part at the end of a banana. When I finished my book on the language of public apology I toyed with using the word regretoric in the title, but wiser editorial heads prevailed. The best blends have a playful punning to them, in which the remnants of the old words encapsulate the new meaning perfectly (the worst blends are like Frankenstein’s monster, like schmeat, a finalist in 2013.). I’ll leave it to you to judge the blends in this year’s finalists: slacktivism (from slacker + activism), normcore (from normal + hardcore), budtender (from bud + bartender).

To me, mere affixation is not as much fun as blending. New words formed by affixation make me think of new versions of old products, some sleek, colorful, and playful (unfriend and selfie), and others a bit too clumsy (hypermiling, the Word of the Year in 2008, or contactless). As a consumer, I rush out to buy some new words and leave others on the shelf.

This year’s Word of the Year vape, meaning to inhale the vapors from e-cigarettes, is a word that I won’t use much, not being a vaper myself. But many people seem to be vaping and the word has a good chance of success. It’s brisker than saying “smoke an e-cigarette” and reinforces the difference between vaping and smoking. Adapted from marijuana terminology, vape is a classic clipping from vaporize, with the added analogy of vapors/vapers and vape, to smoke/smokers and smoke. The word has made its way from High Times to the New York Times and NPR and is already being used not just as a verb but as a noun and adjective. There are “Got Vape?” bumper stickers, vape lounges, and vape pens. Vape is likely here to stay.

Headline image credit: Word cloud via Wordle.

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