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Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words [Kindle Edition]

Phil Cousineau , Gregg Chadwick
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Who knew that the great country of Canada is named for a mistake? How about "bedswerver," the best Elizabethan insult to hurl at a cheating boyfriend? By exploring the delightful back stories of the 250 words in Wordcatcher, readers are lured by language and entangled in etymologies. Author Phil Cousineau takes us on a tour into the obscure territory of word origins with great erudition and endearing curiosity. The English poet W. H. Auden was once asked to teach a poetry class, and when 200 students applied to study with him, he only had room for 20 of them. When asked how he chose his students, he said he picked the ones who actually loved words. So too, with this book — it takes a special wordcatcher to create a treasure chest of remarkable words and their origins, and any word lover will relish the stories that Cousineau has discovered.

Editorial Reviews


"If you are a writer, wordsmither or even just a wannabe, this book is an awe-inspiring reference to guide you through those scary moments of finding just the right word to woo your readers and show-off your knowledge panache."
Portland Book Review

"Cousineau takes us into the obscure territory of word origins with great erudition and endearing curiosity."
—Writer's Journal

“Phil Cousineau is a word wizard and his book, Wordcatcher, is a delightful adventure into a magical world. As I read his amazing etymological explanations of words from eldritch to floccinaucinihilipilification to lagniappe, I begin to understand why the Bible says ‘In the beginning was the Word.’ Phil has made clear that words don’t merely describe reality. They create it.”
—Deepak Chopra, author of The Ultimate Happiness Prescription

“Stake out a claim next to the standard dictionary you use for this less pedantic companion. It contains fewer words but sends up Fourth of July skyrockets on all of them. But caveat emptor, readers beware! Cousineau’s love affair with words is contagious and you are likely to end up lovesick with words yourself.”
—Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions and Tales of Wonder

"A book that allows us to remember the genius of language-- to see, feel and, it seems, even "taste" the living-ness and poetry hidden within these many common and uncommon words. A delicious book."
----Jacob Needleman, author of What Is God?

"I am awed by Phil Cousineau's scholarship and the overall view he has
of inner matters. He has a genius for the soulful dimensions of words,
and a rare intelligence for communicating the numinous dimension of
language. "Wordcatcher" will grace the lives of all who read it, and
inspire them to respect, even revere words as much as its author does."
— Robert A. Johnson, author of He, She, and A Slender Thread

"Phil Cousineau’s Wordcatcher is a wonderful meditation on words that can be read from beginning to end if you are obsessed with speech, greedy for mountain air, and into enlightened verbal play. Not a dry lexical listing, each word Cousineau chooses sings with cellos, vagabonds through tongues and history, and bounces like a balloon on the moon, and as high as his quirky imagination takes us. Compelled reading for residence in the ancient synagogue of the word."
--Willis Barnstone, author of theRestored New Testament and Ancient Greek Lyrics

About the Author

Phil Cousineau is an award-winning writer and filmmaker, teacher and editor, independent scholar and travel leader, storyteller and TV host. His fascination with art, literature, and the history of culture has taken him from Michigan to Marrakesh, Iceland to the Amazon, in a worldwide search for what the ancients called the “soul of the world.”

Cousineau lectures frequently on a wide spectrum of topics that reflect his mythic journeys, including mythology, movies, writing, mentorship, beauty, travel, sports and creativity. Currently the host of Link TV’s “Global Spirit” television series, Cousineau has published 26 nonfiction books and has 15 scriptwriting credits to his name. His books have been translated into nine languages.

Born at an army hospital in Columbia, South Carolina, Phil Cousineau grew up just outside of Detroit, once known as "the Paris of the Midwest.” While moonlighting in a steel factory he studied journalism at the University of Detroit. Before turning to writing books and films full-time, Cousineau’s peripatetic career included stints as a sportswriter, playing semi-pro basketball in Europe, harvesting date trees on an Israeli kibbutz, painting 44 Victorian houses in San Francisco, and teaching screenwriting at the American Film Institute.

For the past 25 years he has enjoyed his life-long dream of being a full-time freelance writer, filmmaker and sports coach. An expert on mythology and film and the "hero journey" structure of screenplays, Cousineau consults on writing projects of all kinds.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun for Word Hounds & Logophiles May 21, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
First. let me say: this is NOT a comprehensive dictionary. It is not meant to be. It's far more special: it's one person's collection of life-defining, life-enhancing, life-inspiring, and life-enriching words. The book is NOT some high brow, exclusive treatise on language or history either. It is, however, an inspiring, meaty, often humorous resource that is at once accessible and scholarly. It's purpose is to put new thoughts and new words into the hands and heads of anyone who wishes to explore words. The book is organized alphabetically, and the fonts are a nice, easy-to-read size. I would suggest that, due to certain word choices within the book, that readers should be at least 14 or 15 age wise. :) The books contains these parts: 1) an Introduction; 2) the word collection; 3) listing of the ten most beautiful words "based in a poll of 40,000 people in 102 countries"; 4) Sources & Recommended Reading; 5) After Tale & About the Author.

This is a delightful book for people who enjoy words and who enjoy delving into the origins and inspirations of words--ordinary and extraordinary. I enjoy Cousineau's writing style, and I have read many of his books. From his efforts, this isn't my favorite book. (My reigning favorite from this author is "The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seekers Guide to Making Travel Sacred." ) However, this is worth reading because it is indeed "An Odyssey Into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words," and it offers a satisfying slice of edutainment (educational entertainment.) For those of us who love knowledge and trivia and live with a dictionary in easy reach, Cousineau has given us a clever gift, his own treasure chest---word hoard. These are words that have captured his interest and imagination over the years.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A very disappointing book December 22, 2010
As a word lover I am delighted with the range and variety of the words chosen for this book. Unfortunately it suffers from many of the typical flaws of such etymological books written by nonspecialists. It mixes accepted knowledge with folk etymologies without clearly distinguishing between them. Sometimes it appears that the author is not even aware of the difference. For example, it repeats the story that "amazon" is from the Greek "without breast" without acknowledging that this derivation was a folk etymology in Classical Greek times. It repeats the story that "assassin" comes from the alleged use of hashish by the Hashshashin, without mentioning the controversial nature of this claim. It even makes the totally erroneous claim that "dinosaur" was coined in 1841, "shortly after" the publication of Descent of Man, when Descent of Man was published in 1872, thirty years later.

If you're interested in reading some entertaining stories about interesting words, this book is fine. If you care whether those stories are true, or at least widely accepted among scholars, you'd be better served by looking for a more well researched book.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fun and educational read, but not problem-free March 1, 2011
This is a very enjoyable book for those of us curious about our language. The asides are great fun: who knew that the Simpsons characters are yellow to catch the eyes of channel surfers?

A few relatively small errors made me wonder how much I should believe what I was reading. On page 180, for instance, the author claims that "Golden Slumbers," the lullaby near the end of the Beatles' incomparable Abbey Road album, was sung by Ringo. Not true: that's Paul McCartney's "warmly avuncular" voice. On page 215, Jack London is credited with having written The Wizard of Oz (actually written by L. Frank Baum). There are also at least two instances where "it's" and "its" are used incorrectly - not the sort of mistakes one should find in a book about the English language!
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Word Catcher - Phil Cousineau (Viva Editions) April 30, 2010
Whether you are looking to create an amazing term paper or article or just want to be the hit of your next dinner party, we recommend taking a look at `Word Catcher: An Odyssey Into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words.' In this new release, author Phil Cousineau assembles the `delightful backstories' of 250 words that he claims to have found to be very intriguing from the first time he heard them.

With selections like `gynotikolobomassophile' (one who loves to nibble on a woman's earlobes), to `melcryptovestimentphilia' (the love of black underwear), to `catawampus' (something that is awry or askew), there are certainly enough terms for you to create your own sui-generis linguistic identity. Not to be put off, Cousineau also provides us with derivations for a host of more familiar words like `damn,' `muse,' and `eclipse' in the spirit of other similar dictionaries of word origins.

But it is his use of his unusual selections that sets Cousineau's work apart and prevents it from being - in one of his words - floccinaucinilipilificatious (that which regards something as absolutely worthless or useless, such as this very word!). A fun new book from a cool boutique publisher, Viva Editions in Berkeley.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A solid addition to any trivia collection June 15, 2010
The lexicon expands throughout history, but few know the stories behind the words. "Word Catcher: An Odyssey Into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words" delves into the English language and tries to find the history behind the names and common phrases we udder every day and how they came to be. From countries being founded on utterances, to the interbreeding with other languages that impact the world over, Phil Consuineau brings readers quite the riveting and fun read. "Word Catcher" is a solid addition to any trivia collection.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun book
A smart guy
Published 3 months ago by William Hennig
5.0 out of 5 stars a constant companion
This is one of my favorite lexicons. I use this volume constantly while writing my children's stories. Words like fribble and flizzen and collywobbles. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Margaret Saunders
5.0 out of 5 stars great shape, hours of fun reading
hours of fun reading for word origin enthusiast Fast- good book- was bent .... etc... etc. . etc . . etc
Published 19 months ago by T. Boadicea
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating reading!
Purchased it as a gift for a fellow word freak; thoroughly enjoyed it myself! English has borrowed so many words from so many other languages and this little book throws light on... Read more
Published 20 months ago by lrodgers
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour of words
Excellent choices and interesting reading, done without snobbery or hubris, a fun way to look at some words we might never have experienced. Edifying!
Published 22 months ago by Mark H. Overton
5.0 out of 5 stars This book will make you smarter
Or at least give you subjects to drop into conversation lulls that make you appear smarter. I am a word freak and love learning the origins of words. Read more
Published 22 months ago by L. Tolman
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, amusing, necessary.
I love language. I have always been fascinated with words and where they came from, why they mean what they mean. Read more
Published on October 8, 2012 by Linda M. Wood
4.0 out of 5 stars loved the book, but
wonderful beginning to learning the origin of some words...i suggest a dictionary to accompany the results because sometimes the actual word gets lost in the explanation... Read more
Published on October 6, 2012 by ann caywood
5.0 out of 5 stars Knowing our Words
This is a book full of not only delightful, wonderful words but also the source and history of the words themselves. Read more
Published on June 4, 2012 by Vera M. Hummel
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Splendid!
Phil Cousineau's Word Catcher opened my eyes up to a wonderful world of words and word origins. I suddenly have a new appreciation for language and its evolution. Read more
Published on February 15, 2012 by AlyS.
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More About the Author

PHIL COUSINEAU is an award-winning writer and filmmaker, teacher and editor, lecturer, storyteller and TV host. His fascination with the art, literature, and history of culture has taken him from Michigan to Marrakesh, Iceland to the Amazon, in a worldwide search for what the ancients called the "soul of the world." With more than 25 books and 15 scriptwriting credits to his name, the "omnipresent influence of myth in modern life" is a thread that runs through all of his work.

BOOKS: Cousineau's books include STOKING THE CREATIVE FIRES, ONCE AND FUTURE MYTHS, THE ART OF PILGRIMAGE, THE HERO'S JOURNEY: JOSEPH CAMPBELL ON HIS LIFE AND WORK, SOUL: AN ARCHAEOLOGY, and WORDCATCHER: AN ODYSSEY INTO THE WORLD OF WEIRD AND WONDERFUL WORDS. A book of essays and reflections on healing, restitution and atonement titled BEYOND FORGIVENESS published in 2011; a book of colorful words and word stories, THE PAINTED WORD: A TREASURE CHEST OF REMARKABLE WORDS AND THEIR ORIGINS, published in 2012; and BURNING THE MIDNIGHT OIL: ILLUMINATING WORDS FOR THE LONG NIGHT'S JOURNEY INTO DAY released in December 2013. Cousineau's books have been translated into nine languages, and he is a contributor to more than 30 other books.

TALKS & TRAVELS: Phil Cousineau lectures frequently on a wide spectrum of topics that reflect his mythic and scholarly journeys, including mythology, movies, writing, mentorship, beauty, language, travel, sports, and creativity. He has been the keynote speaker at major conferences as diverse as the Ansel Adams Centennial Celebration in Yosemite National Park and the Global View Symposium at Michigan State University. He has been invited to lecture at distinguished venues around the world and has collaborated and appeared with some of the great thinkers and philosophers of our time, including with mentors Joseph Campbell and Huston Smith. Cousineau enjoys collaborating with musicians and artists. An expert in pilgrimage and meaningful travel, Cousineau occasionally leads small group journeys to sacred and culturally rich places; in the Fall of 2014 he will take groups to Greece and Turkey.

FILMS: Phil Cousineau's screenwriting credits in documentary films have won more than 25 international awards and include: A SEAT AT THE TABLE, ECOLOGICAL DESIGN, WAYFINDERS, THE PEYOTE ROAD, WIPING THE TEARS OF SEVEN GENERATIONS, THE HERO'S JOURNEY; and the Academy Award-nominated FOREVER ACTIVISTS.

TV & APPEARANCES: He is currently the co-writer and host of GLOBAL SPIRIT, Link TV's "internal travel" television series broadcasting now on World and Local PBS stations. Cousineau has also appeared on CNN, The Discovery Channel, Fox News, and NFL Films, and been featured on Voice of America, PRI's The World, CBC's Tapestry, Deepak Chopra's Wellness Radio, and NPR's Weekend Edition. He has been interviewed for stories in TIME and NEWSWEEK as well as the NEW YORK TIMES. He has been a judge for the Emmys, the San Francisco Film Festival, and the PEN-WEST literary awards. Look for his expert commentary and mythic take on film among the special features on several Warner Brothers DVDs--from THE NATURAL and CONSTANTINE to BATMAN and SUPERMAN.

CONSULTING: An expert on mythology and film and the "hero journey" structure of screenplays, Cousineau consults on all types of writing projects.

Cousineau lives with his family in North Beach in San Francisco, California. He has just finished writing an ambitious book on beauty. Learn more about his work at

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