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Dictionary of Word Origins: Histories of More Than 8,000 English-Language Words
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Top Customer Reviews
Offhand, one of my favorite words would have to be the word "guitar." Did you know that the word guitar started out as the Greek word "kithara," and came to English by means of two separate routes? On the one hand, it passed directly through Europe, by way of the Roman Empire, becoming "cithara" in Latin and then "citole" in Middle English. On the other hand, it went through North Africa with the Muslims as a "qitar" in Arabic, then into Spanish by way of the Moors as "guitarra," then into French as "guitare," then finally into English as "guitar." (A citole, by the way, for all you non-Chaucer fans out there, was a medieval stringed instrument that we no longer have with us.)
That's just one word. There are 7,999 more entries like that, and all of them are amazing. This book is so worth the money it isn't even funny. Two million thumbs up.
The dictionary is in alphabetical order with stories of how each word came into the English language and has evolved over time.
Alcohol - Originally, alcohol was a powder, not a liquid. The word comes from Arabic al-kuhul, literally `the kohl'--that is, powdered antimony used as a cosmetic for darkening the eyelids. This was borrowed into English via French or Medieval Latin, and retained this `powder' meaning for some centuries (for instance, `They put between the eyelids and the eye a certain black powder made of a mineral brought from the kingdom of Fez, and called Alcohol,' George Sandys, Travels 1615). But a change was rapidly taking place: from specifically `antimony,' alcohol came to mean any substance obtained by sublimation, and hence `quintessence.' Alcohol of wine was thus the `quintessence of wine,' produced by distillation or rectification, and by the middle of the 18th century alcohol was being used on its own for the intoxicating ingredient in strong liquor. The more precise chemical definition (a compound with a hydroxyl group bound to a hydrocarbon group) developed in the 19th century.
Ayto's style is simple, clear, and full of not only the technical details you might like (Indo European roots - Latin/Greek/etc. roots) but I continue to sift through Ayto's work even after consulting mammoth dictionaries such as Chamber's. He has insight, and offers some of the anacdotes that make the history of words so fascinating. Famous examples are Sandwhich, etc. but who knew that 'Alcatraz' is related to Pellicans is related to the Arabic word for 'Buckets' that have sprouts shaped like Pelican beaks?
I quickly run out of breath reading his work as I fing myself so often saying 'Huh!' ... 'Ho!' ... 'Huh?'
I love it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A must have for the wordsmith, writer, or any individual fascinated with in depth origins/meanings of words. A must have for any book collection. Superb.Published 22 months ago by Aurora1
Very interesting, educational & entertaining. My husband has enjoyed his for several years, and we just bought one as a Christmas present for a friend.Published on February 9, 2014 by Gerri
I'm not sure why but I find the little mini- definitions in this book to have little life -- perhaps he should have done fewer words with more about each word. Read morePublished on June 5, 2013 by James Kerr
...but take a look at "Wikipedia" ... or the online Merriam-Webster ...both of which between them contain a much more comprehensive (and updated) etymology of words and their... Read morePublished on July 21, 2003 by Nearly Nubile
an exceptionally useful work that is enjoyable to read - even when not specifically "researching" anything.
It is easy to read and thorough.
No real new or special contributions. One can find same information in many other books.Published on September 8, 2002