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Logophiles will enjoy this book
on January 8, 2012
Like the two volumes of Foyle's Philavery which I have reviewed on Amazon earlier, this volume, by an author who has written twelve other books about the English language, makes another pleasant and entertaining gift for logophiles. Here, too, you come across some words (bone-house, bodgery, dragsman, mipela, doobry, bagonize, chillax), though nothing like as many as in the Philavery volumes - but then the purpose of this book is different: it is to show when familiar words first appeared, how in some cases the spelling has changed, how words have evolved over the years and how new words - some ephemeral, some enduring - are constantly being coined. It may not be all that interesting to discover when a word was first used, and again only a few of those evolutions - like how "glamour" evolved from "grammar" or what "lunch" originally meant - are surprising. Crystal has collected many modern coinages - acronyms, abbreviations, slang - some of which are familiar (especially those deriving from the internet), while others will not be - Obamabots, for example: people who robot-like support Barack Obama, for instance. There are also several references to regional words, used only in parts of the United Kingdom. He also has passages on American English, Australian English, pidgin English etc.
Although there are 100 sections, each with one word as its title, in fact Crystal uses many of them as triggers to talk about a great many other words. So, to give just one example, in the article headed "lakh" we also have references to "godown", "bungalow", "dungaree", "guru" and no fewer than 50 other words which English has borrowed from Indian or Arabic, or which Indian English has invented. So there is a lot of information in this book, and Crystal's enthusiasm, breadth of knowledge, and ruminations about language are very engaging.