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Customer Review

86 of 89 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A very disappointing book, December 22, 2010
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This review is from: Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words (Paperback)
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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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 14, 2011 7:14:58 PM PST
@MJN So, which books would you recommend. Are there reliable etymology books that are also readable?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 24, 2014 8:50:37 PM PST
MJN says:
Although it's not solely about etymology, Bill Bryson's "The Mother Tongue" is both readable and quite thoroughly researched.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2015 9:46:27 AM PST
Tony says:
From what I can tell of that other book's reviews, it appears that it also suffers from issues with accuracy.

Posted on Feb 9, 2016 8:09:37 AM PST
A "word lover" who uses the clumsy phrase "a more well researched book"? That alone disqualified this review for me.

Posted on Feb 9, 2016 9:20:12 AM PST
Katie Davis says:
Yes Please let us know which books you would recommend. Thank you
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