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The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language Paperback – October 2, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“The stocking filler of the season...how else to describe a book that explains the connection between Dom Perignon and Mein Kampf.”--The Observer

“Crikey...this is addictive!”--The Times

“Mark Forsyth is clearly a man who knows his onions.”--Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Mark Forsyth is a writer, journalist, proofreader, ghostwriter, and pedant. He was given a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary as a christening present and has never looked back. He is the creator of The Inky Fool, a blog about words, phrases, grammar, rhetoric, and prose.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley; Reprint edition (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780425260791
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425260791
  • ASIN: 0425260798
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Woodge on January 9, 2012
The subtitle sums it up pretty nicely: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language. Forsyth, the man behind the blog Inky Fool, is obsessed with where words come from and with wit takes you on a roundabout journey through his obsession. I started reading this fully thinking, that I'd pick it up here and there when I needed a break from my current fiction in progress. But I pretty much read this book straight through and enjoyed it very much. The target audience is definitely word nerds, though. One chapter I enjoyed was titled "Concealed Farts." In a nineteenth-century dictionary, the author found this definition for fice:

A small windy escape backwards, more obvious to the nose than ears; frequently by old ladies charged [blamed] on their lap-dogs.

He continues:

And fice itself comes from the Old English fist, which likewise meant fart. In Elizabethan times a smelly dog was called a fisting cur, and by the eighteenth century any little dog was called a feist, and that's where we get the word feisty from. Little dogs are so prone to bark at anything that an uppity girl was called fiesty, straight from the flatulent dogs of yore. This is a point well worth remembering when you're next reading a film review about a 'feisty heroine.'
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy P on April 8, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
A friend said, you have to read this book. They couldn't quite say why. And it's true that this book defies explanation. (Or to put it another way, any way you try and explain it sounds either a little pointless or rather dull. I'll try and do better!)

Mark Forsyth traces word roots, finds connections between words and phrases and tells stories - sometimes from today, sometimes from the recent past, and occasionally back to the days of the earliest human languages. His mind (I suspect) and this book (I can vouch) are a kind of linguistic equivalent of online WILFing. (WILF? Well, it ought to be wwilf. It stands for, "What was I looking for?" and it's a way of describing those lost eight hours you spent browsing websites about pre-Ptolemaic kingdoms, when all you meant to do was find the population of Brisbane for your daughter's geography project.)

Each section of the book (the word 'chapter' doesn't really fit) is a kind of walking tour of the linguistic highlands. You learn a lot along the way, but in truth what's happening is that you're mainly enjoying the company of your witty and learned guide, as he traces strange connections, notes the oddities of word origins and how often we use terms that have fascinating (and occasionally scandalous) origins and generally makes you think about the English language.

I loved the book, and keep it on my Kindle. And it's given me a whole mine of useless but fascinating information. It's certainly a good book to give as a gift: it's a fun book just to dip into for anyone with the slightest interest in language. If you're anything like me you will read and re-read. I find I remember that there's a curious story behind a particular word, but I have to go back to the book to search it out.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Chief Technovelgist on November 4, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Etymologicon is much more enjoyable than the usual sort of book that introduces the reader to unusual words or word origins. The author has done a marvelous job, and I think that anyone who is attracted to this kind of book will find it difficult to put down.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Johnston on March 17, 2012
If you're a closet etymologist or casual linguicist, like me, then this is the book for you. Mark Forsyth leads a merry ramble through the tangled roots of the English language, identifying verbal histories and connections which are sometimes quite mind-boggling.

A sequence of short chapters each explores a topic, usually identifying a stream of words stemming from a common source, whether that be a Greek, Latin or proto-Indo-European root, a language which has been partially adopted into the English tapestry, or a fount of linguistic innovation such as the writings of Milton. In many cases he threads a route through time, geography and lexical space to words which have dramatically different or even opposite meanings to their antecedents.

While each chapter can be read alone, Forsyth cunningly links them together, with each feeding the next, and the last linking back to the first like Ouroboros swallowing its tail.

The writing is always amusing, and occasionally funny enough to stimulate a laugh out loud. Forsyth reserves particular cruelty for poets, and other specialists in the use and abuse of words. My favourite quote: "[we] should devote a chapter to Samuel Johnson's dictionary. So we won't." Myles Coverdale, editor of an early English Bible, is characterised by "[he] didn't let the tiny detail that he knew no Latin, Greek or Hebrew get in his way. This is the kind of can-do attitude that is sadly lacking in modern biblical scholarship."

This isn't a learned book, and its structure and style preclude any deep exploration of a particular topic. But it will convey a broad appreciation of the mixing of the rich Jambalaya which is the English language, and will certainly pique your interest at understanding where words come from, as well as their immediate meaning.
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