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History in English Words Paperback – March 6, 2002
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“In our language alone, not to speak of its many companions, the past history of humanity is spread out in an imperishable map, just as the history of the mineral earth lies embedded in the layers of its outer crust.... Language has preserved for us the inner, living history of our soul. It reveals the evolution of consciousness” ―Owen Barfield
For more than three-quarters of a century, Owen Barfield produced original and thought-provoking works that made him a legendary cult figure. History in English Words is his classic excursion into history through the English language.
This popular book provides a brief, brilliant history of the various peoples who have spoken the Indo-European tongues. It is illustrated throughout by current English words whose derivation from other languages, and whose history in use and changes of meaning, record and unlock the larger history.
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A learned, imaginative, moving and felicitously factual book. -- Cyril Connolly, The Sunday Times
About the Author
- Publisher : Lindisfarne Books; 2nd edition (March 6, 2002)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 182 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0940262118
- ISBN-13 : 978-0940262119
- Item Weight : 11.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.55 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #197,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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It's truly a compelling, fascinating, and wise study of the nature of language and our approach to it/our inability to disentangle from it. Yes, you'll learn the significance of words like "egg" and "giraffe" entering the lexicon; more significantly, you'll see how we've shifted our priorities over the past 500 years, as revealed through metaphor and descriptors. It's the story of the philosophy we hide from ourselves: the beliefs and assumptions we sweep under the rug.
If you don't think that's important, look around. Adults tell children how "cool" it is that they're built "like a machine". We use machine terminology more and more frequently. We abdicate from taking free will seriously, and yet are enslaved to a perpetual outrage industry which demands people submit to the zeitgeist at once. Social workers and teachers threaten parents who aren't quick enough to roll with the tide, and proclaim they can know whether a person is "in the wrong body."
Everyone's a metaphysician, only some people know it. The ones who don't are truly dangerous, and that's why I would be glad to see this book read far and wide.
Owen Barfield, an Oxford graduate who loves language even more than I love it, wrote History in English Words in 1953. In his Foreword, W. H. Auden calls this delicate, powerful work “a weapon in the unending battle between civilisation and barbarism.” All foes of barbarism should procure a copy immediately.
This is not an easy read, but it’s easy to keep reading it. Barfield brings his remarkable erudition to nearly every page; the reader learns much about words—in English, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and the Indo-European protolanguage—and learns much about history, philosophy, religion, literature, culture, mind and the deep structures of consciously human society. I’m not kidding. This book is unique in my experience.
Here’s a casual teaser:
“…it has been said that there are more [new words] in Shakespeare’s plays than in all the rest of the English poets put together.”
Examples of the Bard’s imagination:
advantageous, amazement, critic, dishearten, dwindle, generous, invulnerable, majestic, obscene, pedant, pious, radiance, reliance, sanctimonious
Throughout 240 pages, Barfield implicitly emphasizes a dynamic point: new words are created continuously in all languages by all peoples, and old words continuously acquire new meanings in all cultures.
The way we think and express our thoughts and feelings today could not have been done—in the fullness of our modern meanings and understandings—as little as 100 years ago.
Take a minute and speak three carefully considered sentences about three topics that you think are important or exciting. Almost certainly, no human being has ever before experienced your exact thought processes and used precisely your words to express them.
Spread the word.
Read more of my book reviews here:
Escape from the dull mill of Chomsky into the dazzling bakery of Barfield.
Whether you wish to understand old literature - revive and practice an ancient belief system or mystery - or even would you plumb the thinking of your ancestors or perhaps yourself in a previous lifetime then let this recent and blessed "Dead Guy" be at your elbow.