Sunday, 8 January 2012

Book #2 The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth

The Etymologicon

When I was 17 or so I did a bit of etymology (study of word origin) at A Level and rather enjoyed it, "Santa came from St Nick which is related to Old Nick which means Devil" that sort of thing. Some of these books which make a splash around the festive season can be gimmicky but when I noticed that The Etymologicon was 99p on Kindle, I got it I first thought that it was perhaps a etymological dictionary but at that price : a bargain. It isn't quite that though.

Author Mark Forsyth a clear aficionado etymologist takes us on a circular journey through the origin of popular words, phrases and cultural references, beginning and ending with book and phrases which use terms like "to throw the book" and "cooking the books"

The book is often amusing and gives the sensation of a man with a passion for his subject talking at you incessantly about it at a party or something, but, far from being annoying this machine gun fire discourse is really interesting and often entertaining, Forsyth certainly has a way with words and can often be amusing.

I found out many interesting factoids from Mr Forsyth: the contributions made by Milton and Shelley to the English language, why Wendy isn't a real girls name but Neverland is a real place, why a computer boots up and gets bugs and computer users experience Spam, why all guns are female and where the phrases "in the buff" and "before you can say Jack Robinson" come from.

There was one that I already knew in there though : the correlation between the Starbucks coffee house chain and Herman Melville.

The Etymologicon takes the style of some radio features I have seen where the song played on one day has a roundabout connection with the song played the next day and each chapter tends to end with the word which will be explained in the next. The trouble with this book is that though it is entertaining its rapid fire style can feel relentless and you can forget quite quickly what you've just been told, though I read the book in a linear way over a few days, it is much more the sort of book to be dipped in and out of, a coffee table or toilet book sort of thing. (I know of people who have kept books in their loo though I've never done it)

I enjoyed this book which also has a cryptic crossword style quiz at the back and would recommend it to readers and wordsmiths everywhere. I've already decided to buy this for a couple of people and if he brings out a follow up I will definitely get it. 9/10

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