The Etymologicon

  • by Mark Forsyth
  • Narrated by Don Hagen
  • 7 hrs and 1 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Do you know why…
a mortgage is literally a death pledge? …why guns have girls’ names? …why salt is related to soldier?
You’re about to find out…
The Etymologicon (e-t?-‘mä-lä-ji-kän) is:
*Witty (wi-te\): Full of clever humor
*Erudite (er-?-dit): Showing knowledge
*Ribald (ri-b?ld): Crude, offensive
The Etymologicon is a completely unauthorized guide to the strange underpinnings of the English language. It explains: How you get from “gruntled” to “disgruntled”; why you are absolutely right to believe that your meager salary barely covers “money for salt”; how the biggest chain of coffee shops in the world (hint: Seattle) connects to whaling in Nantucket; and what precisely the Rolling Stones have to do with gardening.


What the Critics Say

“The stocking filler of the else to describe a book that explains the connection between Dom Perignon and Mein Kampf.” (The Observer)
“Crikey...this is addictive!” (The Times)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Why settle for the whole nine yards...

... 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.
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- Dubi

Maddening! Does not work as an audiobook!

I imagine this as the kind of book I'd like to have in the bathroom. Short entries on the origins of words. And I wanted to see the words. See how they are put together. Pay attention to their spelling. Their prefixes. Their suffixes. So much of etymology depends on this. Therefore, it just doesn't work as an audiobook. And while this is a minor point, the author is clearly British. You can tell by many of his references and his overall sense of humor. So why not have a British narrator? There were interesting entries, but as a book (especially an audiobook ) it drove me up the wall.
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- James

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-14-2014
  • Publisher: Gildan Media, LLC