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History in English Words Paperback – March 1, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0940262119 ISBN-10: 0940262118 Edition: 2nd

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History in English Words + Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (Wesleyan Paperback) + Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Lindisfarne Books; 2nd edition (March 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940262118
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940262119
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #893,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A joy to read but also of great moral value in the unending battle between civilization and barbarism. -- W. H. Auden

A learned, imaginative, moving and felicitously factual book. -- Cyril Connolly, The Sunday Times

About the Author

Owen Barfield (1898-1997), British philosopher and critic, has been called the "First and Last Inkling" because of his influential and enduring role in the group known as the Oxford Inklings, which included C.S. lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. It was Barfield who first advanced the ideas about language, myth, and belief that became identified with the thought and art of the Inklings. The author of numerous books, his history of the evolution of human consciousness, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, achieved a place in the list of the '100 Best Spiritual Books of the Century'.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Halifax Student Account on January 31, 2013
Format: Paperback
You will never get inside the heads of people living 4500 years ago by merely practising archaeology or analysing the chemical structure of ancient land-fills. The bodies of the ancients, who raised children, fought and fell in love, have turned to dust and their pyramids are but mocking monoliths on the graveyard of history.

Stones and bones cannot speak and so remain silent, and so too is the analysis of ancient poo. Ancient droppings may well give us the structure of the body, with sufficiently advanced technology; but still, the silence remains as dead as a grave.

The things our ancestors said, that is, their words, are tongues frozen in time and this is how we can get into the minds of our ancestors, so argues Owen Barfield. (The 'tongues' image is my lazy impression of Barfield's utterly fantastic style).

Owen Barfield argues that rocks can't speak, but words can. By looking at words, we can suss the psyche of humans living 6000 years ago! Words evolved over time, changed, and so did human consciousness. Our ancestors were very different from our fellow humans living today. Indeed, words are spirits, or psyches, of long gone human minds who've have been frozen and preserved in time. We can hatch the words out of their frozen-ness, and the ancients can be heard by us moderns. Barfied claims that we can step inside the thoughts of the people living generations ago, this way.

This is what History in English Words is all about. I think the title puts people off and this is why this book is unknown. The title sounds like a dry textbook. The opposite is the case.

What where our ancestors thinking 5000 years ago? Apart from inventing a time machine, this book provides a window.

No review on Amazon will ever do this book justice. All I can say is that Owen Barfield can write and no man should be as imaginative and clever as this guy.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Daniel J. Smitherman on July 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
Barfield's narrative study of changes in words through the history of the English language that attest to the evolution of human consciousness. Very worthwhile, even if Barfield's style and literary landmarks are dated.
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By The River Horus on December 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A remarkable work demonstrating how much of our contemporary concepts and ideas depend on changes in meaning and usage, some fairly recent, in our language. Without these philological developments, many of the thought and ideas we take for granted could not even be framed in our thinking.
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