So it was with The Etymologicon which I came across when browsing the shelves of Waterstones while I was waiting to meet my son last week.
It describes itself as: ‘a circular stroll through the hidden connections of the English language’ which is exactly what it delivers.
Written in short sections, it wanders through the unexpected origins of the words and phrases with each section leading on to the next until the final section takes you right back to page one.
The book began life as Mark Forsyth’s blog, The Inky Fool, and it shows. It’s snappy, well-written and witty which are the qualities that any blogger should aspire to.
It also makes you think about a major part of our lives that we take for granted – our language. For example:
- Why is it that merit and meretricious are almost opposite in meaning, even though they share the same source?
- Why is it that you can wage a war, but very little else?
- What does John the Baptist have to with the best-known song from The Sound of Music?
- Why did Celtic culture contribute so few words to the English language? (This is a genuine mystery)
- How did the most famous coffee shop chain come to be named after a sedge-filled stream in Yorkshire?
The answer to these and many other things you didn’t know you didn’t know can be found in The Etymologicon which I would say is essential reading for all lovers of the English language, even Americans.
That last comment was a cheap shot since many of the words, phrases and spellings used in the US are closer to the original than we care to admit in the UK.
To prove the point that America has many things to offer the language, here is what is reputed to be the longest grammatically correct sentence in English that uses just one word:
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
Nip over to Amazon to order the book and find out why word buffs love this antanaclasis.