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Very clever. The book is disjointed, intentionally so, not being chronological or broken down by source language, yet is entertaining.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
... when everyone knows it takes ten yards to make a first down?
Did you know the word oxymoron is itself an oxymoron? That turkeys are indeed named after the country Turkey (because they were mistaken for Guinea fowl, who do not actually come from Guinea)? That a rolling stone is really a gardening tool that must be kept free of moss (something Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger must no have known)? That feisty came to mean combative because old ladies blamed their flatulence on their lapdogs? That the fierce battlefield tank was so named by Winston Churchill because its original name was too close to a toilet?
Well, if you love words, if you love the English language in all of its robust idiosyncratic glory, if you love to have fun with language, if you want to impress your next cocktail party, win at Trivial Pursuit, or get some extra points when you go on Jeopardy, you'll love Mark Forsyth's answers to these and many other etymological curiosities.
Just to be clear, this Etymologicon is not interested in classroom word roots, nothing as mundane as basic Latin or Greek sources of common words. No, this is how some unusual words or phrases came into being, how some common words evolved from strange roots, and how so many of them are remarkably and improbably interconnected.
Among my favorites in the latter category are contemporary technologies or brand names emerging from unlikely sources -- how one 11th century Danish queen and her consort gave us the word gun and the brand name Bluetooth, how an anonymous Viking in olde England led to the brand name Starbucks, how bugs came to be in computer software (not to mention beds), how Henry the VIII's oversize codpiece still resides on every computer keyboard not once but twice.
What makes it work is the humorous delivery. Some reviewers found the humor not to their liking. I found it an appropriate vehicle for making this book more lively than the kind of dry scholarly material you might expect. The author is no Monty Python (whom he references), some of his punch lines are groaners, but most of his stories are absolutely fascinating.
But sadly, he has no explanation for the whole nine yards (he does not even attempt one), as it remains one of the mysteries of the American idiom, a term for which there is no known etymology.
16 of 17 people found this review helpful