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Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends Hardcover – December 2, 2004
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"Think "hot dog" was coined by a New York baseball vendor, or that a certain vulgarity originated as an acronym? Then you need to read this book, which shows that some of the best etymological stories are just tall tales."--Chicago Tribune (10 Best Books About Language, 2004)
About the Author
David Wilton, a writer, lives in California. He runs the popular website Wordorigins.org.
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Top Customer Reviews
For example, he argues that "SOS" never stood for anything like Save Our Ship or Save Our Souls -- "SOS", as it turns out, was just easy to tap out in Morse Code.
Another example: he demonstrates that Coca Cola never translated the name for their trademark drink as "bite the wax tadpole" in China.
I learned quite a few etymologies reading through this book. It's carefully researched and thoughtfully organized.
If I have one criticism of the book, it's that some of the explanations drag on for much longer than they need to. Where Mr. Wilton faced a decision between academic completeness and a brief witticism, he too often decided on the former. This is a book that begs to be written playfully (the cartoons which open each chapter set the visual tone perfectly), but for some reason just isn't.
Still, the book is worth a quick read to discover that the things you thought you knew turn out to be, as the author calls them, linguistic urban legends.
The writing in this book is surprisingly poor. Many other reviewers have pointed this out, and I can confirm their observations. The information in the book is very good, but the way in which it is expressed is not. I don't know if it's the principal fault of the author or the editor, but most likely both of them dropped the ball here. Perhaps if you aren't overly critical about grammar you won't even notice, but if you're interested in this book in the first place, chances are good that you have at least dabbled in linguistics. The only thing stopping me from giving a more positive review is that this book is one of the worst I've ever read, not in terms of content but in terms of its language.
Wilson begins by explaining how word myths come about and that they are really a significant subset of all urban legends and e-mail hoaxes which themselves come from a line of tall tales and Xerox fables. He also explains that debunking word myths is a thankless task since so many of the tales we hear, we WANT to believe and do not easily forgive those who attempt to correct our beliefs.
"Word Myths" covers such diverse topics as whether picnic refers to a Southern lynching party, whether pumpernickel has something to do with Napoleon's horse, and whether a tinker's damn should really be spelled ticker's dam. Most cases in the book are selected because they are wrong or highly suspect. But a few are verified as possible or even probable. Like a good scientist, Wilson doesn't like to ever conclude that something is definitely proven. He does feel that some word myths can definitely be disproven -usually because the chronology of when it first shows up in the language.
This would be a fun coffee table or back of the toilet type of book. But it even makes for good armchair reading.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A fun read! It's all stuff you can find online, but the organization in a book format allows for a lot more depth and continuity. It's also fun to highlight and make notes.Published 11 months ago by arunan
Just starting to enjoy this little gem. But I can already tell it will serve as grist for the proverbial conversational mill for years to come!Published 15 months ago by GingerAZ
I sent copies to each of my many grandchildren - and then I actually read it and discovered that I could do as well on my own.Published 18 months ago by Charles A. Ellis MD
This book corrects many verbal myths and sheds light (sometimes a bit more that I wanted to have) on commonly used slang or street language. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Dr. B.
I admit to being a word geek. I love the picky nonsense of grammar (and the huge fights that result from it) but most of all, I love a good etymology. Mr. Read morePublished 22 months ago by K. Albeck
This book is a handy, fun reference to discovering the entomology of words and phrases we use all the time.Published 23 months ago by Jack Getz
Got it for her birthday, she has been reading it ever since. Very interesting topics are discussed in its chapters.Published on December 21, 2013 by Sam Hahn
Starts off interesting, but eventually grows boring, as he shoots down word-myth after word-myth using essentially the same argument each time -- the word appears in the record... Read morePublished on August 14, 2013 by A. Tady