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The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through…

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language (original 2011; udgave 2012)

af Mark Forsyth (Forfatter)

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
1,2525114,499 (3.9)43
Unauthorized guide to the underpinnings of the English language.
Titel:The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language
Forfattere:Mark Forsyth (Forfatter)
Info:Berkley (2012), Edition: Reprint, 304 pages
Samlinger:Læser for øjeblikket

Work Information

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language af Mark Forsyth (2011)


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I really loved mark Forsyth's "the Elements of Eloquence"...hence I bought this book by him expecting more of the same erudition and humour. Unfortunately, I've found it a trifle tedious.....a bit too much of a good thing perhaps. I think much of it derives from his blog "The inky fool" and was probably written as a series of essays over quite a long period. I think, sampled at weekly intervals is probably the best way to enjoy and appreciate these essays but to be read in a couple of sittings (as i have just done) is a bit of an overkill. Sure the material is fascinating ...though some of the leaps of logic strain the imagination. And sure, I have learned a lot. But each article really left my head swimming with the linguistic gymnastics and meaning changes.
But there are some real gems there, for example:
"When Caxton built his printing press in the fifteenth century, he set it up to use sheepskin and not paper. When paper was finally introduced it was manufactured to fit the existing printing presses, and that’s the reason that both the text you’re reading and the book that contains it are dependent upon sheep".
"At the time that the Never Never was being named, the British had decided that a warm, sunny country with beautiful beaches was clearly a great spot for a penal colony. If you were caught stealing a loaf of bread in early Victorian Britain you were sent to Australia, where there was less bread but much more sunshine. This system was abolished in 1850 when word got back to Britain that Australia was, in fact, a lovely place to live and therefore didn’t count as a punishment. It was decided that lounging on the beach at Christmas did not produce what judges described as ‘a just measure of pain’."
"Parrot got verbed by Thomas Nashe at the end of the sixteenth century in the equally pointless but fantastically titled 'Have With You To Saffron Walden', an inexplicable work of incomprehensible invective."
"Magazines: Once upon a time there was an Arabic word khazana meaning to store up. From that they got makhzan meaning storehouse and its plural makhazin. That word sailed northwards across the Mediterranean (the middle of the earth) and became the Italian magazzino, which then proceeded by foot to France and became magasin, before jumping onto a ferry and getting into Britain as magazine, still retaining its original meaning of storehouse, usually military, hence the magazine in a gun."
"After all, Johnson didn’t write the first English dictionary. There were plenty before him and there have been plenty since. The chief recommendation of Johnson’s is that he defines a cough as: ‘A convulsion of the lungs, vellicated by some sharp serosity."
"Minor [ a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary] had a lot of time on his hands, and also the advantage of being criminally insane, which is always a plus in lexicography. So he started reading. He read and read and read and took note after note after note, and sent the notes to Murray. .......It wasn’t until the 1890s that James Murray discovered that his star contributor, the man on whom his dictionary was based, was an insane murderer".
"As it is, Jesus tells his disciples, ‘This is not bread, this is human flesh. What’s more, it’s my flesh. Now eat it up like good little cannibals.’ It’s enough to make you curious. Christianity’s cannibalism is something so central to Western culture that it often escapes our notice."
"What words have the Celts contributed to the English language?....Celts? Next to nothing. There’s combe, meaning valley, which comes from cym. There’s tor, meaning rock, which comes from torr, the Celtic word for hill. There’s cross, which we seem to have got from Irish missionaries in the tenth century, rather than from the native Celts. And there’s … Well, there’s not much else. It depends on how you count things, really, and it’s always possible that words were there but not noted down. The Anglo-Saxons managed to occupy an island for hundreds of years and take almost no words from the people they defeated. ....We will never know how the Anglo-Saxons and the Celts really got on. Maybe it was a massacre, maybe it was a jolly party. The ages were too dark and history is too forgetful. Nor is it wise to be consumed by sorrow or anger. If you look back far enough everything is stolen and every country invaded. The Celts themselves had conquered the previous people of Britain in around 600 BC, and the Anglo-Saxons were about to get hit by the vicious Vikings, who would bring with them their own language and their own place-names."
"The internal arrangement of the Inns of Court was as Byzantine and incomprehensible as one would expect from a building devoted to the law, but basically there were the Readers, who were clever folk and sat in an Inner Sanctum separated from the rest of the students by a big bar. The lesser students would sit around reading and studying and dreaming of the great day when they would be called to the bar and allowed to plead a case like a proper lawyer. The situation was complicated by the fact that there used to be outer barristers and inner barristers who had a particular relationship with sheriffs at law, and you would probably have to study for a few years before you understood the bar system even partially,"
Ancient animals became fossilised, petrified and scattered. "The same has happened to gorm, feck, ruth and reck. They were all once real words. Now they are frozen for ever in–less phrases. Gorm (spelled all sorts of ways) was a Scandinavian word meaning sense or understanding........our current use age can be traced to Emily Bronte ...maybe there was a word "gorm" but Emily Brontë doesn’t mention it. So gormless got into one of the most famous novels ever written, ........Anyway, Carlyle used feckless but he never used the word feck, and so the one word lived and became famous, while the other vanished into a Celtic twilight.......If something is true, it’s the truth. If you rue your actions, you feel ruth. If you don’t rue your actions, you feel no ruth and that makes you ruthless. Ruth survived for quite a long time, and it’s uncertain as to why it died out in the end.
"In fact, when the Greeks named the zodiac all of the signs were living creatures. Libra, the odd one out, was added in by the Romans."
"About 30 per cent of English words come from French, though it depends, of course, on how you’re counting. This means that, though English is basically a Germanic language, we are, at least, one third romantic. ........Not all versions of Romanic were the same. There was the Romanic that had developed in Rome, another one in France, another in Spain, another in Romania. But Romanic became the catch-all term for all these languages and then for all the stories that were written in them."
"Shakespeare didn’t give a damn about geography. In The Tempest, Prospero is abducted from his palace in Milan and bundled down to the docks under cover of darkness. Seventy-four miles overnight is a good bit of bundling in the days before the Ferrari. Not that that bothered the Bard. He had people sailing from Verona and a sail-maker working in Bergamo, an Italian town that’s over a hundred miles from the nearest port".
"The first description of California was written in Spain in about 1510, which is odd because, at the time, no European had been to the western coast of the Americas. But fiction usually beats fact to the punch. The description was written by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, and the reason that he was able to write it with such authority was that California was an entirely fictional place..........Of course, California was never actually an island, but owing to a mistake by an exploratory monk, European map-makers believed that it was an island from the sixteenth century up until about 1750"
"Myles Coverdale was an early Protestant who believed in principle that the Bible should be translated into English. He decided that, as nobody else seemed to be doing it, he had better get on with the job himself, and he didn’t let the tiny detail that he knew no Latin, Greek or Hebrew get in his way. This is the kind of can-do attitude that is sadly lacking in modern biblical scholarship."
"Cyberspace is out of control and filled with cybersquatters having cybersex with cyberpunks. This would make more sense if anybody actually knew what cyber meant, and the answer may come as a shock to cyberpunks, because cyber means controlled–indeed, it comes from the same root as governed."
"In fact, almost the only women who had jobs in Rome were the women who stood in front of brothels looking for customers. The Latin for standing in front of things is pro-stitutio. It was a way of earning a living, almost the only one for a girl, and the Latin for earning was merere. When a man earned a living he merited it, and became meritable. A veteran soldier who had retired to spend his money could proudly call himself emeritus, meaning that he had earned all he needed and retired, which is where we get Emeritus Professors. That’s because a soldier was a man. But when a girl earned a living she was a meretrix, and meretrix could mean only one thing: tart. And that’s why meretricious still means tarty."
"The leaves of buckwheat look very similar to the leaves of a beech tree. The German for beech is Buche and so buckwheat is really beechwheat."
Maybe it's unfair to judge Mark's work too hastily. But I would not recommend reading it on one go ....as I more or less have done (two goes actually). It would be much better taken in small controlled doses. But for me it's three stars. ( )
  booktsunami | Sep 7, 2023 |
An utterly delightful and whimsical book that any appreciator of language and its history is sure to love. ( )
  qaphsiel | Feb 20, 2023 |
Amazing book that brings life to language. Forsyth is a talented writer combining the story of history and language together in one highly entertaining read. (I found I kept wanting to share passages with anyone around me). Language is clearly alive and as the author says its almost impossible to know where a word has come from and where its going. The very act of speaking and writing is laden with history. Read this book. ( )
  kropferama | Jan 1, 2023 |
Fascinating and humorous meander through the often surprising origins of English words. Each tiny chapter seems to lead on to the next.
  jgoodwll | Feb 16, 2022 |
Fast paced and fun stroll through the origins of words in the English language. ( )
  kevn57 | Dec 8, 2021 |
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Unauthorized guide to the underpinnings of the English language.

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