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Word Origins ... and How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone 1st Edition

3.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195161472
ISBN-10: 0195161475
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Word Origins is chock full of intriguing, accessible insights into how our language has evolved, mutated and otherwise morphed over thousands of years."--Pulse

"The erudite and winsome Liberman explains his work as an etymologist, which includes historical cases to crack and tall tales to debunk."--Chicago Tribune

"While Anatoly Liberman's study of the English language covers such interesting topics as sound-imitative words, compounds, coinages, and borrowings, it does so in a way that actually manages to be dense and scholarly and tongue-in-cheek and amusing, all at the same time."--Library Media Connection

"Those seriously interested in the origins of our language, who actively want to find out more about the way etymologists work, and who along the way don't mind taking in some sobering guidance on the pitfalls of ferreting out word histories."--World Wide Words

"As a sideline to his long ongoing work on a new etymological dictionary of English, Liberman enlightens general readers...about the challenges faced by etymologists in tracing word origins and evolved meanins. His explanations cover philosophical musings, historical debates in the field, and words imitating sounds."--Reference and Research Book News

"It may sound simple, but etymology -- the study of word origins -- is in fact murky and tedious, if unfailingly fascinating. Liberman's book is an examination of the process of determining how a word originated, and it shows how complex his craft can be."--Chicago Tribune

About the Author


Anatoly Liberman is Professor of the Humanities at the University of Minnesota. For the past seventeen years, he has been working on a new etymological dictionary of English. He lives in Minneapolis.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 24, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195161475
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195161472
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 1.2 x 5.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,097,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dick Grune on June 6, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book makes one realize that there are two kinds of etymologies: the one that tries to explain terms like "hackney" and "jack-o-lantern"; and the one that tries to explain terms like "hand" and "bring". The first makes you search through medieval tomes and books about ancient crafts; the second causes one to delve into ablaut series and next to unpronounceable Proto-Indo-European (PIE) words that look more like formulas (which they partly are). The first yields a number of anecdotal and often amusing stories, the second dry-as-dust formal word derivations. The author, although acknowledging the existence of the second, is clearly much more interested in the first; PIE figures only sporadically in the text and does not even occur in the index.

This approach makes the book a juicy read, especially on "funny" English words; the sections on ablaut series etc. lack the same flourish and are mercifully small. Yet even in the juicy part there are quite a number of promising
paragraphs that lead nowhere. For example, on page 101 we learn that "Cockney" has an interesting origin, but that origin is never revealed.

Much too much to my taste is attributed to sound symbolism (page 212: the b in "to beat" is suggested to be "imitative (echoic)" of the beating action; the argument is that out of 115 synonyms of "beat, strike" about 20 begin with a b) or explained as "baby words" (pig - big - bag for "swollen things"). I think such claims are warranted only when supported by similar phenomena from several non-Indo-European languages. I personally cannot find back any of these sound symbolisms in Hebrew, the only Non-IE language I know well. Latin "capere" (to take), Finnish "kappan" (to seize) and Hebr.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've always had an interest in this subject. I had not studied Greek or Latin in school, but should have. The book was informative to me, a layman, and helped in my understanding of English words and how they changed over the centuries. I am familiar with Spanish and French derivatives and the book informed my of the many words that are of German and even Viking ancestry. I also learned how long the science of etymology has been pursed and all the difficulties and ambiguities that come along in the process. The biggest problem I had was the author's use of esoteric Old English or German letters in the spelling of words that are or possibly are etymons for "modern" English words. I did indeed learn that etymology is a vast subject indeed and I find myself analyzing words that I come across now with more understanding of where they originated.
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Format: Paperback
My feeling are similar to reviewer Adrian W. The man has some great ideas (heard him on Lexicon Valley) and he has thoroughly and exhaustingly done his research. However, "I've only got 24 hours to live and I ain't gonna waste it here".
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Format: Paperback
As someone who reads etymological dictionaries (English, French and Italian) for fun I was expecting something more upbeat. This is an incredibly interesting topic - tracing a word's history is like tracing the culture of a nation. I am an academic myself, so I wasn't expecting or wanting this book to be dumbed down, but I found it extremely dry - so dry in fact that I quickly began flitting through the book in the hope of finding some interesting insights. If you've never read anything before on etymology or etymologists, then you might find it worthwhile buying the book. If not ...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Recommended by the A Way With Words hosts, but it is meant for advanced students, not people with simply an interest in etymology. I gave up on it about 1/4 of the way through.
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A definite must read for those that long and thirst for knowledge!!!!!!!!
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Not quite as extensive as I would have preferred but still good.
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