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The Oxford Guide to Etymology [Paperback]

Philip Durkin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

24 Mar 2005 0199691614 978-0199691616 Reprint
This practical introduction to word history investigates every aspect of where words come from and how they change. Philip Durkin, chief etymologist of the Oxford English Dictionary, shows how different types of evidence can shed light on the myriad ways in which words change in form and meaning. He considers how such changes can be part of wider linguistic processes, or be influenced by a complex mixture of social and cultural factors. He illustrates every point with a wide range of fascinating examples. Dr. Durkin investigates folk etymology and other changes which words undergo in everyday use. He shows how language families are established, how words in different languages can have a common ancester, and the ways in which the latter can be distinguished from words introduced through language contact. He examines the etymologies of the names of people and places. His focus is on English but he draws many examples from languages such as French, German, and Latin which cast light on the pre-histories of English words. The Oxford Guide to Etymology is reliable, readable, instructive, and enjoyable. Everyone interested in the history of words will value this account of an endlessly fascinating subject.

Frequently Bought Together

The Oxford Guide to Etymology + Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins (Oxford Paperback Reference) + The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language
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Product details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; Reprint edition (24 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199691614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199691616
  • Product Dimensions: 24.4 x 16.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 470,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

This is an immaculate work in every sense, proudly flying the banners of authority and of hegemony ... a galazy of fascinating examples ... a brilliant, addictive work indispensable for school and academic libraries at all levels, and for all with any interest in words and the enchanted patterns they weave. H. G. A. Hughes, Reference Reviews a very readable, informative, content-packed introduction for the beginner; for the initiated it provides an incentive to ponder the many open questions presented. As such it can be unreservedly recommended. Elmar Seebold, Anglia Our strong expectations of The Oxford Guide to Etymology are fully realized Nicoline van der Sijs, Nederlandse Taalkunde Very much to be welcomed Paul T. Roberge, English Language and Linguistics

About the Author

Philip Durkin is Principal Etymologist of the Oxford English Dictionary. He trained as a medievalist and historian of the English language at the University of Oxford, where he completed a doctorate on previously unedited Middle English prose texts. He is a well-known speaker on English etymology. His publications include articles in scholarly journals, such as Transactions of the Philological Society, Dictionaries, and Critical Quarterly. He is Honorary Treasurer of the Philological Society, the oldest learned society in Great Britain for the study of language and languages

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine orientation into the subject 19 Oct 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A clear, fairly formal presentation of the science of etymology, which is in many ways like archaeology or landscape history (only of words). The book's strength is its reasonably pain-free presentation of the latest research on the subject's theoretical bases. But any dryness is alleviated through plenty of fascinating (and often delightfully surprising) examples and case studies.

I suppose it may be a little heavyweight when compared to a number of recent books, which are basically just collections of curious word histories (e.g. The Story of English in 100 Words). But it shows more of the practical workings of the subject, and does better at helping make the most of the etymological entries in the larger dictionaries. It also fills a need for an accessible introductory guide to methods and practice for someone who wants to actively work in the field. This is especially important, because of all the linguistic sciences this one is the most open to amateur contributions and independent study.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent textbook 2 Jan 2011
By Christian Ler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An excellent and comprehensive book. This book is for anyone who wants to know what etymology is all about, how it works and what problems it faces. If you ever browsed an etymological dictionary or looked at the brief etymologies in a regular dictionary and wondered, "How did they come up with this?", then you should read this book.

The writing is very accessible and readable. If only most other language scholars wrote like this.

The book really expects no prior knowledge, but it would help if the reader is familiar with the basics of grammar and knows a foreign language.

One of the best points of the book: it discredits the common misconception that etymology is about finding the "true" or "original" meaning of a word. There is no such thing, since language changes all the time, and always did so. For a reader who is not familiar with the history of the English language, it can be quite fascinating to see how dramatically it changed.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine orientation into the subject 21 Oct 2011
By Simon Esposito - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A clear, fairly formal presentation of the science of etymology, which is in many ways like archaeology or landscape history (only of words). The book's strength is its reasonably pain-free presentation of the latest research on the subject's theoretical bases, and its methods and practice. But any dryness is alleviated through plenty of fascinating (and often delightfully surprising) examples and case studies.

I suppose it may be a little heavyweight when compared to a number of recent books, which are basically just collections of curious word histories (e.g. The Etymologicon). But it shows more of the practical workings of the subject, and does better at helping make the most of the etymological entries in the larger dictionaries. It also fills a need for an accessible introductory guide for someone who wants to actively work in the field. This is especially important, because of all the linguistic sciences this one is the most open to amateur contributions and independent study.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a Dictionary 23 April 2013
By John Kay - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a wordsmith, etymology has always been an important topic for me and I have often wondered "how do they know that". Durkin explains in rich detail just how he does it and as a general interest book I shall keep it by me. He writes very well, as one would expect, and the book has value on that account for anyone who wishes to express themselves well. Durkin uses many examples to illustrate the various processes and procedures in word research but this is not an etymological dictionary. It's more of a "How To" book.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Seems to want to serve as a textbook, but it's one of the most dry books on linguistics I've ever read 8 April 2012
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Philip Durkin's THE OXFORD GUIDE TO ETYMOLOGY is an introduction to this field of linguistics, the tracing of word histories. Durkin is an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, and in this introduction he draws all of the examples from the history of English. Of course that means drawing in data from Latin, French, Old Norse, etc., but since the words he examines are part of English, any reader can relate to them.

This book is chock-full of information, but it's difficult to see what the audience is. From the initial pages, one might think this is meant as a textbook for students of linguistics or the history of English specifically. However, there are no exercises and the information is not broken up into convenient individual lessons. THE OXFORD GUIDE TO ETYMOLOGY is in fact exceedingly dry, and will prove a daunting read even for those with a linguistics background. I'd recommend it to those who have worked with Hock's challenging but worthy handbook Principles of Historical Linguistics, as Durkin's book complements Hock's book with more detail on this particular aspect of language change.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Textbook for a class 4 Jun 2013
By JKaika - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Have only gotten through the first few chapters, but a manageable read even for those of us who aren't full-fledged linguists.
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