Enter your mobile number below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
Getting the download link through email is temporarily not available. Please check back later.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends Hardcover – December 2, 2004
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
"Think "hot dog" was coined by a New York baseball vendor, or that a certain vulgarity originated as an acronym? Then you need to read this book, which shows that some of the best etymological stories are just tall tales."--Chicago Tribune (10 Best Books About Language, 2004)
About the Author
David Wilton, a writer, lives in California. He runs the popular website Wordorigins.org.
Top Customer Reviews
For example, he argues that "SOS" never stood for anything like Save Our Ship or Save Our Souls -- "SOS", as it turns out, was just easy to tap out in Morse Code.
Another example: he demonstrates that Coca Cola never translated the name for their trademark drink as "bite the wax tadpole" in China.
I learned quite a few etymologies reading through this book. It's carefully researched and thoughtfully organized.
If I have one criticism of the book, it's that some of the explanations drag on for much longer than they need to. Where Mr. Wilton faced a decision between academic completeness and a brief witticism, he too often decided on the former. This is a book that begs to be written playfully (the cartoons which open each chapter set the visual tone perfectly), but for some reason just isn't.
Still, the book is worth a quick read to discover that the things you thought you knew turn out to be, as the author calls them, linguistic urban legends.
The writing in this book is surprisingly poor. Many other reviewers have pointed this out, and I can confirm their observations. The information in the book is very good, but the way in which it is expressed is not. I don't know if it's the principal fault of the author or the editor, but most likely both of them dropped the ball here. Perhaps if you aren't overly critical about grammar you won't even notice, but if you're interested in this book in the first place, chances are good that you have at least dabbled in linguistics. The only thing stopping me from giving a more positive review is that this book is one of the worst I've ever read, not in terms of content but in terms of its language.
The problem is, he doesn't risk making a statement about where each phrase definitively came from, or even a strong opinion pointing in that direction.
It's just: "nope, less than probably, nobody knows, maybe, absolutely nope, unlikely, extremely unlikely, and laughable".
Very informative, but mostly spineless and less than satisfying. I hate the thought that we will need to pay more money for a book that has real conclusions. A little more bunking would be nice.
Wilson begins by explaining how word myths come about and that they are really a significant subset of all urban legends and e-mail hoaxes which themselves come from a line of tall tales and Xerox fables. He also explains that debunking word myths is a thankless task since so many of the tales we hear, we WANT to believe and do not easily forgive those who attempt to correct our beliefs.
"Word Myths" covers such diverse topics as whether picnic refers to a Southern lynching party, whether pumpernickel has something to do with Napoleon's horse, and whether a tinker's damn should really be spelled ticker's dam. Most cases in the book are selected because they are wrong or highly suspect. But a few are verified as possible or even probable. Like a good scientist, Wilson doesn't like to ever conclude that something is definitely proven. He does feel that some word myths can definitely be disproven -usually because the chronology of when it first shows up in the language.
This would be a fun coffee table or back of the toilet type of book. But it even makes for good armchair reading.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It was okay. Often the explanations of why the source of a word was a myth was flimsier than the myth.Published 1 month ago by AP
Enjoyed this very much and found it very easy to comprehend.Published 1 month ago by Paul Condarcuri jr
A fun read! It's all stuff you can find online, but the organization in a book format allows for a lot more depth and continuity. It's also fun to highlight and make notes.Published 16 months ago by arunan
Just starting to enjoy this little gem. But I can already tell it will serve as grist for the proverbial conversational mill for years to come!Published 21 months ago by GingerAZ
I sent copies to each of my many grandchildren - and then I actually read it and discovered that I could do as well on my own.Published 24 months ago by Charles A. Ellis MD
This book corrects many verbal myths and sheds light (sometimes a bit more that I wanted to have) on commonly used slang or street language. Read morePublished on June 4, 2014 by Dr. B.
I admit to being a word geek. I love the picky nonsense of grammar (and the huge fights that result from it) but most of all, I love a good etymology. Mr. Read morePublished on April 3, 2014 by K. Albeck