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Word Origins And How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone [Paperback]

by Anatoly Liberman
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 13, 2009 0195387074 978-0195387070
Written in a funny, charming, and conversational style, Word Origins is the first book to offer a thorough investigation of the history and the science of etymology, making this little-known field accessible to everyone interested in the history of words.

Anatoly Liberman, an internationally acclaimed etymologist, takes the reader by the hand and explains the many ways that English words can be made, and the many ways in which etymologists try to unearth the origins of words. Every chapter is packed with dozens of examples of proven word histories, used to illustrate the correct ways to trace the origins of words as well as some of the egregiously bad ways to trace them. He not only tells the known origins of hundreds of words, but also shows how their origins were determined. And along the way, the reader is treated to a wealth of fascinating word facts. Did they once have bells in a belfry? No, the original meaning of belfry was siege tower. Are the words isle and island, raven and ravenous, or pan and pantry related etymologically? No, though they look strikingly similar, these words came to English via different routes.

Partly a history, partly a how-to, and completely entertaining, Word Origins invites readers behind the scenes to watch an etymologist at work.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Prof. Liberman's excellent book would make a fine Christmas present for anyone interested in the history of the English language. Irish Times,

About the Author


Anatoly Liberman is Professor of the Humanities at the University of Minnesota. For the past seventeen years, he has been working on a new etymological dictionary of English.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (April 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195387074
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195387070
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #463,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
(7)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Juicy Read, with some Minuses June 6, 2010
Format:Paperback
This book makes one realize that there are two kinds of etymologies: the one that tries to explain terms like "hackney" and "jack-o-lantern"; and the one that tries to explain terms like "hand" and "bring". The first makes you search through medieval tomes and books about ancient crafts; the second causes one to delve into ablaut series and next to unpronounceable Proto-Indo-European (PIE) words that look more like formulas (which they partly are). The first yields a number of anecdotal and often amusing stories, the second dry-as-dust formal word derivations. The author, although acknowledging the existence of the second, is clearly much more interested in the first; PIE figures only sporadically in the text and does not even occur in the index.

This approach makes the book a juicy read, especially on "funny" English words; the sections on ablaut series etc. lack the same flourish and are mercifully small. Yet even in the juicy part there are quite a number of promising
paragraphs that lead nowhere. For example, on page 101 we learn that "Cockney" has an interesting origin, but that origin is never revealed.

Much too much to my taste is attributed to sound symbolism (page 212: the b in "to beat" is suggested to be "imitative (echoic)" of the beating action; the argument is that out of 115 synonyms of "beat, strike" about 20 begin with a b) or explained as "baby words" (pig - big - bag for "swollen things"). I think such claims are warranted only when supported by similar phenomena from several non-Indo-European languages. I personally cannot find back any of these sound symbolisms in Hebrew, the only Non-IE language I know well. Latin "capere" (to take), Finnish "kappan" (to seize) and Hebr.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Filled my curiosity, but…. March 20, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I've always had an interest in this subject. I had not studied Greek or Latin in school, but should have. The book was informative to me, a layman, and helped in my understanding of English words and how they changed over the centuries. I am familiar with Spanish and French derivatives and the book informed my of the many words that are of German and even Viking ancestry. I also learned how long the science of etymology has been pursed and all the difficulties and ambiguities that come along in the process. The biggest problem I had was the author's use of esoteric Old English or German letters in the spelling of words that are or possibly are etymons for "modern" English words. I did indeed learn that etymology is a vast subject indeed and I find myself analyzing words that I come across now with more understanding of where they originated.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice Book. July 11, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this for my stepson.He's really enjoying it very much. He's using it for school. Thank you very much.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
As someone who reads etymological dictionaries (English, French and Italian) for fun I was expecting something more upbeat. This is an incredibly interesting topic - tracing a word's history is like tracing the culture of a nation. I am an academic myself, so I wasn't expecting or wanting this book to be dumbed down, but I found it extremely dry - so dry in fact that I quickly began flitting through the book in the hope of finding some interesting insights. If you've never read anything before on etymology or etymologists, then you might find it worthwhile buying the book. If not ...
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