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The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots

4.7 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801867842
ISBN-10: 0801867843
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Hats off to Joseph Shipley.

(William Safire New York Times)

A dictionary as invaluable to the philologist as it is a wellspring of delight for any inquisitive person.

(Perihelion)

A word-loving browser's delight.

(Atlantic Monthly)

The title promises a discursive voyage, and Shipley is as good as his word. He's a scholarly, humorous, rambling fellow, and his 636-page itinerary is filled with the excitement of chance encounters with long-lost cousins in distant lands.

(Newsday)

Not since the late Frank H. Vizetelly has there been an etymologist of the stature and erudition of Joseph T. Shipley, whose 26 books on various aspects of the English language are not only illuminating but a joy to read. Now, with The Origins of English Words, Dr. Shipley has outdone himself.

(West Coast Review of Books)

From the Publisher

"A dictionary as invaluable to the philologist as it is a wellspring of delight for any inquisitive person."—Perihelion

"The title promises a discursive voyage, and Shipley is as good as his word. He's a scholarly, humorous, rambling fellow, and his 636-page itinerary is filled with the excitement of chance encounters with long-lost cousins in distant lands."—Newsday

"Not since the late Frank H. Vizetelly has there been an etymologist of the stature and erudition of Joseph T. Shipley, whose 26 books on various aspects of the English language are not only illuminating but a joy to read. Now, with The Origins of English Words, Dr. Shipley has outdone himself."—West Coast Review of Books

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (February 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801867843
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801867842
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #705,772 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Shipley is a scholar who wrote a study of Tolkien's language; his "discursive dictionary" shows the same mix of scholarship and fun. The book itself is organized by Indo-European roots. Shipley does not, however, expect you to know the IE root of an English word off the top of your head - he does provide an English to root index.
Tidbits of information come from an amazingly broad range of topics. For example, speaking of the root plumbum (lead) he mentions that it may come via Iberia because lead was mined in Spain as early as 2000 BC. In the entry on men (for math etc.) we get a quote from Dryden on Bacchus. In short, you get the information you need (the etmology and history of a word) along with fun tidbits.
The only complaint is that the dictionary is too fun ... looking up a word will always turn into an hour long browsing for enjoyment.
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Among the 5,000 books in my library, 50 or 60 of them being dictionaries, this is one of the most erudite and entertaining -- a rare combination. The author's knowledge of literature and language is quite remarkable. Apart from being an invaluable serious reference work it is also a wonderful tome for reading in bed (and it's not too heavy!) It is somewhat too complex, too "deep", to buy as a birthday present for an Auntie or Uncle with everyday interests, but it would make a wonderful present for a gifted young nephew or niece who loves to explore and learn about the wondrous riches of our linguistic and literary heritage
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although nothing will replace my 20-volume OED as the ultimate reference work for etymological questions, this book comes very close. In one handy volume, it's possible to find lots of language cognates across the Indo-European family and get a real feel for how language can evolve over time and across cultures. Not for everyone but a treasure for word lovers.
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Format: Paperback
I am a college junior, and I have found no book more helpful in my studies than this one. It is a great reference work that can be used for so many topics and in so many contexts. It is a necessity in my reference collection. The etymlogies of so many roots and words are throroughly explained, and done so with amazing clarity.
Word Ninja
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Full of interesting information, history, and insights into why and how we speak and write as we do. Excellent reference.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a must own if you have international friends or live in a multi lingual house hold. I satisfy both criteria and at dinner's we will always talk etymology and meanings. The internet has nothing on the Red Book, as I call it. I invariably pop it out to settle a linguistic dispute. Very entertaining. I keep it in the kitchen with the cookbooks.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anybody interested in words should find this book fascinating. It's arranged like a dictionary, but the entries are (as the title promises) discursive, and reveal unexpected relationships between words. A random example: "heart" derives from the Indo-European "kerd", which also gives rise to cardiac, core, cordial, courageous, accord, accordion, discord, record ("on the tablet of your heart"), misericord (from which comes miser and miserable), quarry ("hunted game, from the heart's being given to the hounds"), and more. One might think cord, chordal, and harpsichord are related to these, but they're not; they derive from "gher" (gut), which is also the root of hernia. The book is full of surprises and is entertainingly written, abounding in (often bawdy) literary examples.
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