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An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction
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Liberman is a professor of Germanic philology at the U. of Minnesota and author of many books and articles on etymology and language. Most of the 55 words he has chosen for this first book of a planned series are simple words. Among these are bird, drab, ever, dwarf, gawk, key, lass, man, pimp, toad, and witch. Nearly every word is traced to a root word among the northern European family of languages, the basis for Anglo-Saxon and modern English. The word "jeep" is an obvious exception. A few of the words are controversial four-letter or gender terms.
While the author's "centrifugal principle" sets relevant limitations and preferences for deciding on the root of a particular word, the etymological practice demonstrated in his analysis of the more than 50 words is complex and depends on much scholarly knowledge. In these analyses, Liberman does not simply follow a line of apparent related words to a root word, as seen in most dictionaries, including even the esteemed multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary. For Liberman's search for the most probable root entails assessing other respected etymologists' research and conclusions, comparing similar words or possible cognates from several languages, and arguing for why the particular root identified is preferable. In other words, Liberman goes well beyond simply denoting a word root. He aims not only to clarify etymology where able, but to unearth its complexity where called for both to correct errors and assumptions regarding particular words and improve etymological methodology and research.
Word lovers will find the lengthy, involved articles on the number of particular familiar and few obscure words engaging. Most significantly for the field of etymology is his methodology; which is both rigorous and flexible in reaching probable attributions for word roots. With scientific method (as opposed to the frequent presumptions and conventions), literary (i. e., writing) and reasoning ability, and incomparable scholarship, Liberman charts new paths in the field of etymology.