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Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning Hardcover – March 25, 2008

4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Reference; First Edition edition (March 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375426124
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375426124
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 1 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Who would have thought words like "nice" and "pretty" meant something completely different hundreds of years ago or that "satellite" referred to a bodyguard? In this extraordinary yet compact book, "Semantic Antics", Sol Steinmetz reviews dozens of words and how they have evolved over time. It's a simple formula...the author presents a word, gives the current and original meanings, describes from what language it is derived and often cites the word or phrase in literature.

Steinmetz begins with several different reasons why words can develop and change over time and adds to that at the end. It serves as a good set of bookends to the text within. Amelioration (upgrading of words) and pejoration (downgrading) appear most often, it seems, as the likely causes for word changes, with the latter far more prevalent. Each entry is brief but just the right length to hold the reader's interest. I highly recommend "Semantic Antics" as a terrific addition to etymology.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I got this book for a friend who is a connoisseur of the English language -- her post-graduate work was on its ancestral beginnings, she taught it in academia, and she was the top techwriter for a major Fortune 100 corporation for 20 years. Here is her assessment:

"At last, a book about the evolution of the English language that is written in a breezy, interesting style! Whether you have an academic or a casual interest in the history of the language, Semantic Antics traces some of the most interesting words in our language from their roots to modern day usage --- in an accurate, non-pedantic manner."
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Format: Hardcover
The writing in this book isn't the best you'll ever find, and it's surprisingly short--only about 250 words get discussed. But it's still a beguiling book if you love words, because the author takes the reader through the history of interesting words, how they first entered the language, what their original meanings were, how these meanings changed, which writers used these words in which contexts, etc. 'Satellite' once meant bodyguard, 'ruse' comes from a hunting game, 'berserk' derives from the Icelandic for a shirt, 'gossip' once referred to a godparent. There's a story in every word, and each story is equally interesting. Not a book for everyone, but for those who enjoy knowing more about the words we use every day, a wonderful gift.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very witty and entertaing
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book because William Saffire from the New York Times recommended it. Well, I won't buy any more of Saffire recommendations.

The book tells the story of how words have evolved. This could be interesting, but they are printed in alphabetical order, rather than say by pattern of the evolution of meaning, original meaning of words, etc.

The book is therefore a dictionary with very few words. This is particularly problematic because there is another dictionary out there where you learn the origin of words, it is a little book called the Oxford English Dictionary.

For instance, another reviewer here asks 'who would have thought that satellite meant bodyguard?' The OED!. It says of satellite:
1656;"one retained to guard a mans person"

Yes, Semantics Antics does not just list previous meanings, it tells you a brief story, but it is not appealing to read an alphabetical list of stories of words.

What's really a pitty is that the intro to the book sheds some light on how the book could have been written. It gives an overview of the few patterns in which the meaning of words evolves through time; if only the book was organized along those general trends, it would actually add value to simply randomly reading the OED.
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