The Etymologicon A Circular Stroll through the Hidden

The Sunday Times Number One bestseller and Radio 4 Book of the Week in paperback for the first timeWhat is the actual connection between disgruntled and gruntled? What links church organs to organised crime California to the Caliphate or brackets to codpieces?The Etymologicon springs from Mark Forsyth's Inky Fool blog on the strange connections between words It's an occasionally ribald frequently witty and unerringly erudite guided tour of the secret labyrinth that lurks beneath the English language taking in monks and monkeys film buffs and buffaloes and explaining precisely what the Rolling Stones have to do with gardening


10 thoughts on “The Etymologicon A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language

  1. says:

    This is an entertaining survey of etymological examples written in a breezy style and constructed according to a clever rule there is an etymological link between every chapter and the next and the last chapter links to the first Hence the title a circular stroll It is also a useful bathroom book ideal for keeping the mind busy while the body is otherwise engagedBut Forsyth tries too hard He is a genuinely amusing writer but by the end of the book I began to sense that he really didn't have faith in his subject that he was convinced the only way he could prevent boredom in the reader was by throwing in a Pythonesque witticism every couple of linesIf he had trusted both his own style and his subject matter he could have written a better book


  2. says:

    Words are the strangest of things And that is because they aren’t really things at all Not things at least with fixed and final essences They change and they morph and they even turned into their own opposites in ways that ‘things’ generally don’t Well unless they are caterpillars and butterflies – butterflies even rate a mention in this wonderful and endlessly amusing book You are going to have to get hold of this you knowWe’ve become fooled you see by the OED – the fact you can ‘look up what a word means’ tends to fool us into believing that words have meanings when in fact they basically get their meanings from their relation to all other words in the language Another book I’m reading at the moment says that words are empty jars which we fill with meaning as we become aware of the worldThere was a time when I was convinced that ‘candid’ would come to mean ‘hidden’ This was because virtually the only use of the word in the modern world was associated with the phrase ‘smile you’re on candid camera’ and the main fact about being on candid camera was the reveal at the end when it was made clear that there was a hidden camera filming you So a candid camera was a hidden camera – this now is one of the meanings of the word in the OED It would be interesting to test people of a certain age to see if they would be likely to say candid meant hidden than frank You know frank gets its meaning here from the idea of belonging to the Franks and therefore being free – in the same way that slave originally meant being in servitude due to being a Slav I’ve a feeling that even the historical meanings of words we don’t know about impact on our understanding of their current meanings I know that seems daft – but take the word develop which comes from the Old French for ‘to unfold’ and how develop means something quite different in English than change As this book tells us – there are no true synonyms in any language – how could there possibly be? Did you know that a trolley in Greek is metaphor? Did you know that cliché is a printing term and is onomatopoeic? Why does T S Eliot translate the call of the rooster in The Waste Land into Italian? Co co rico co co rico? English roosters don’t say that at allV K Ramachandran makes the fascinating point that certain words have their meanings due to our universal synesthesia I can’t remember the exact words he makes up but he talks about a pretend language from Africa which has words for an object with pointy spikes and another object with soft round curves Why is it that we are much likely to guess the word zizek belongs to the sharp object and bomba to the soft one? I mean this is a language that doesn’t even exist And is this part of the reason why Žižek is the kind of philosopher he is? Pointy and sharp rather than soft and curvy? The fact that there is a kind of rightness to words a rightness to their sound and their feel in your mouth is a very odd idea Saussure talks about the arbitrary nature of the sign but there are limits to how arbitrary the sign can really beMy favourite swearword in Italian is cacasentenza – a boring and pedantic person – but literally ‘one who shits in sentences’ Caca is one of those almost synesthetic words It means the same in English as it does in Italian although in English we say Cack or cacky I’ve often wondered if khaki which the OED defines as dust coloured brownish yellow also comes in a roundabout way from excrement?There are jokes in this book too – my favourite was the one about Bach and his twenty children which I’ve now told twice and will tell many times I suspect There are also little asides that almost invariably made me smile – if not laugh in that particularly pleasing way that a clever and witty aside invariably forces me to do This whole book except perhaps for the introduction which people might find a little over done – or overwrought is a pure delight You need this book It is something that is good for your soul It will do than just make you smile It will also get you to make that sound we all make when we learn something that seems almost too good to be true You know the one a mixture of ‘get out of here’ and ‘oh yes’ Pure magic


  3. says:

    I’m sorry to say that as time went on I found this book very boring It is written in a serpentine fashion with the origin of one word slipping kind of seamlessly into the origin of the next and it is written in a rather chummy down the pub kind of language ”when John grew up he began telling people that they were naughty and chucking them in a river Now if you or I tried a stunt like that we’d be brought up by the police pretty sharpish But John got away with it and if you can believe it was considered rather holy for all his attempted drowning Chaps at the time called him John the Baptist” You get the flavour But but but I am very alone in my disparagement The reviews from most people have been glowing with an average GR rating of 425 so don’t let my curmudgeonly views put you offI did find the author had some flashes of brilliance and snips like the following particularly interested meBazil II – a Byzantine Emperior who reigned from 976 1025 ruthlessly conquered the peoples of southern Bulgaria In the north of the country they were subjudicated by the Holy Roman Empire “So many Slavs were defeated and oppressed that the word Slav itself became interchangeable with forced labour and that is where we get the world SlaveIn 1996 Jim Kardach developed a system that would allow mobile telephones to communicate with computers At the time he was reading a book about Vikings set in the reign of King Harald I of Denmark or “Bluetooth” as he was commonly known He was given this moniker because he had blue teeth or perhaps black teeth Kardach nicknamed his invention “Bluetooth” and eventually the name stuckThere are some words where we have lost the use of the basic word and now just use its oppositeFeck FecklessReck RecklessRuth RuthlessExorably Inexorably ”Salt was infinitely valuable in the ancient world than it is today To the Romans salt was white tasty gold Legionaries were given a special stipend just to buy themselves salt and make their food bearable this was called the “salarium” and it’s where we get the English world “Salary” which is really just “salt money”All in all though I can’t recommend this book I read it at bedtime and it took me forever Far from being the sort of book which kept me reading greedily into the wee hours night after night I would find that two pages would knock me out like a sleeping pill


  4. says:

    There can be few better recommendations for any book than that you continuously feel the need to read excerpts out to those around you no matter what they are doing or what else they are trying to read themselves Oh this one is great Just this one and I'll stop Ah wait this one is really good too I've only felt the need to do this with two books this year — this one because I was really enjoying it the other because it was just so ridiculous in places The Etymologicon is a book of words Well technically all books are books of words except picture books but this one is about words words and phrases The origins of words specifically Each chapter digs into the origin of a word or phrase starting with the phrase a turn up for the books and exploring it's meaning it's origin other words or phrases that share the same origins and wandering around in a sort of a rambling conversation that is interesting funny and by chance also educational Somehow like that word game in the newspaper Forsyth starts the chapter with one word and manages to wind the conversation through to end on another explaining his train of thought as he goes This final word then becomes the starting word for the next chapterSome of the chapters about two thirds of the way through feel a little short and rushed but in the main each chapter gave me something to annoy Louise with The final chapter contains the clever twist in the tail ending as it does with the start phrase of the first chapter Neatly closing the loopA short review because I really can't think of much I didn't like about this book so my complaints are minimal Absolutely recommended even if you have only ever had a passing wonder about language and where some of our esoteric parts of that language come from


  5. says:

    A quite wonderful little bookThis got onto my long list because of these glowing reviews from James Nikki and PaulAs James says There can be few better recommendations for any book than that you continuously feel the need to read excepts out to those around you no matter what they are doing or what else they are trying to read themselves Oh this one is great Just this one and I'll stop Ah wait this one is really good too I did the same myself at lengthDid you know that avocados are testicles? And we're all part of the human gene chicken? And that if you called a Nazi a Nazi they would beat you up? And that the Bluetooth on your phone is a Viking?I read this on my lunchbreak devouring the bitesize chapters along with my canteen spam'n'chips and I couldn't wait to get home and tell my wife the funny little snipped that had stuck in my mind that dayEach mini chapter delves into the amusing anecdotes that lay behind everyday words and end by linking that word on to a new word which will be the focus of the next chapterGreat idea flawless execution five stars from me


  6. says:

    As someone who really loves words and their meanings and histories I can't say enough how much I loved this book I did not want it to end and now I want to find books just like it Some things I knew but I learned a lot The joy is in finding them out so I won't give any away on here This book was great from start to finish and for anyone with a love of words it is a must read


  7. says:

    If you are hungry for a feast of mildly interesting linguistic factoids with which to gorge yourself and potentially vomit all over everyone around you never fear this book offers a bounteous buffet In the introduction Forsyth admits that the reason the book exists is to give him an outlet for all of his rambling and useless etymological knowledge so that he need not continue to torment acquaintances with it Unlike me he says a book could be left snugly on the bedside table or beside the lavatory opened at will and closed at willMuch as I have tried I've never succeeded in eliciting anything other than barely patient looks when I've launched into did you know that 'salary' comes from a word meaning 'salt'? type pedantry Someday I will meet someone who cares In the meantime this book helped me build up my trivia arsenal a word which Forsyth tells me comes from the Arsenale di Venezia a dock in Renaissance era Venice where ships were built and repairedThe scope of this book is fairly broad a lot is crammed into these 250 engrossing pages Many of my personal Greatest Hits of Etymology can be found here Every meaning of the word check in English can be traced back to its meaning in chess an old Persian game called shahs kings of course which ended with the phrase shah mat the king is dead filtered down to English as checkmate We sing do re mi etc because of an old song about St John that went Ut queant laxis resonare fibris Mira gestorum famuli tuorum etc with a melody where each opening syllable climbed the scale one tone at a time Ut was later changed to do for domine because it sounds ridiculous to hold a note singing uuuuuuuuhhhhhtttt Hocus pocus is a mockery of the Latin phrase Hoc est corpus meum this is my body which Catholics believed actually physically transformed a hunk of bread into the corpse of Jesus Assassin is related to the word hashish in reference to a medieval cult of hitmen so proficient and determined that everyone assumed they were all on dopeI had come across these etymologies before it seems I've read a lot of these types of books over the years and found them fascinating and so reading this was a welcome chance to groove to the oldies once again The Etymologicon doesn't just cover familiar ground however There are plenty of smash hit new singles in here as well New to me anyhow For instance I never knew that the rolling stone which proverbially gathers no moss is actually a gardening implement a rolling stone used to make your yard nice and flat Bob Dylan sounds much less hip when you realize he was singing about gardeningAnother one I liked the term Nazi was a German insult long before any Nationalsozialisten showed up It was a nickname for Ignatius a common Bavarian name and everyone knew Bavarians were ignorant hicks Nazis therefore really hated being called Nazis Forsyth compares the situation to a hypothetical right wing party that called itself Red States for the Next America obviously everyone else would call them the RedNexAnd further testifying may actually refer to putting your hand on your own or someone else's testicles to ensure I don't know that you have a dudely and therefore truthful disposition? I suppose that might help to explain why for much of history women weren't allowed to testify in courtAnd there are so many Film buffs originate from buffalo computer bugs refer to the bogeyman the term cyberpunk etymologically means well governed homosexual and the oil company Shell really did go into business initially to sell seashells possibly by the seashoreThis review barely scratches the surface This is one of the best most extensive and by far the most humorous etymology books I've read Your friends will hate you for it Highly recommended


  8. says:

    I love this book love v Old English lufian to love cherish show love to delight in approve from Proto Germanic lubojan cognates Old High German lubon German lieben from root of love n Related Loved loving Right from the beginning it took off in a delightfully pedantic direction with a casual encounter in a cafe turning from innocent etymological question into an explanation of the history and origin of every word ever spawning the idea for this book pedantic adj formed in English c 1600 from pedant ic pedant n 1580s schoolmaster from Middle French pédant 1560s or directly from Italian pedante literally teacher schoolmaster of uncertain origin apparently an alteration of Late Latin paedagogantem nominative paedagogans present participle of paedagogare see pedagogue Meaning person who trumpets minor points of learning first recorded 1590sOK that's enough of that or this review will be as long as the book but not nearly as entertaining because my etymological knowledge is not nearly as comprehensive and inexhaustible as Forsyth's and his wry humor is just on point which made it a pure pleasure of a read He makes smart jokes about the connections and unknown meanings of words and shows how language has changed and evolved over time and how what we're saying isn't quite what we USED to be saying Forsyth is a person who trumpets minor points of learning and makes it fun and educational and interesting I want I wish this book was twice as long or there were a series of them Brilliant


  9. says:

    I really enjoyed this one a fun and fascinating reading Entirely delightful


  10. says:

    This is like stand up comedy about etymology I absolutely adored it The book had me laughing within the first five minutes and from there I was frequently giggling with quite a few bouts of raucous laughter There is no real discussion of the science of etymology like you would find in McWhorter’s books but the same amount of passion is there It is the most aptly named work of nonfiction it really is a circular stroll One thought about a word flows seamlessly to the next and all the sudden you realize that while the discussion was about Pocahontas you are know learning that etymologically pumpernickel means “devil fart” I listened to the audiobook which was marvelously performed but I did find that if my mind began wandering on the “farty” origins of the word petard then I would lose my place in the book and have to go back about 30 seconds and regain my listening composure it was that fast pacedI highly recommend this book for anyone that wants a good laugh lovers of language and you are all bookish people so I assume this applies to all of you and to those people that love knowing all the weird and strange tidbits of information