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Port Out, Starboard Home [Paperback]

Michael Quinion
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Sep 2005

Can it really be true that 'golf' stands for 'Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden'? Or that 'rule of thumb' comes from an archaic legal principle that a man may chastise his wife, but only with a rod no thicker than his thumb?

These and hundreds of other stories are commonly told and retold whenever people meet. They grow up in part because expressions are often genuinely mysterious. Why, for example, are satisfying meals 'square' rather than any other shape? And how did anyone ever come up with the idea that if you're competent at something you can 'cut the mustard'?

Michael Quinion here retells many of the more bizarre tales, and explains their real origins where they're known. This is a fascinating treasure-trove of fiction and fact for anyone interested in language.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (1 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141012234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141012230
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 17.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 129,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Quinion (1942-) has been a BBC studio manager and radio producer, an audio-visual and video producer, museum curator, tourism consultant, computer software writer, web developer, lexicographer and etymologist, and sometimes feels a little tired. Quite by accident he became involved in the work of the Oxford English Dictionary and has down the years provided some 170,000 examples of new or unusual words to help revise the work. From the museum - the Cider Museum in Hereford - came his two little books on English cider making; the rest of his books derive from his etymological research. These days, he concentrates on writing a weekly newsletter, World Wide Words, and its accompanying website (http://www.worldwidewords.org); he calculates he has written the equivalent of at least two more books for it over the past 15 years. He lives in South Gloucestershire and maintains the websites of the Thornbury Volunteer Centre and of the local branch of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme.

Product Description


Michael Quinion's World Wide Words is the web authority on English etymology (word origins) and usage-come here for definitive information on some of the most interesting, amusing and downright weird words and phrases in the English language. (Cambridge Dictionaries Online web site (February 2003))

About the Author

Michael Quinion has contributed to the Oxford Dictionary of New Words (2nd edition), edited the weekly Daily Telegraph new words column, and is author of a dictionary of affixes, Ologies and Isms (OUP). He has made countless contributions to the OED. Since 1996 he has produced the weekly e-newsletter World Wide Words, which has an associated website. He lives in Bristol.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting 4 Nov 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For anyone interested in the history and origins of words and common expressions, this is the book for you. Michael Quinion casts an educated and amusing eye on the popular myths and folk etymologies that surround many words and expressions in the English language. I enjoyed it very much and now feel vastly superior on an intellectual level to all my friends and am never short of a fact or two to retell when ever need arises, and occasionally when it doesn't.
Best for English/History enthusiastes who have ever wondered 'Where did that saying come from?'
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Language Myths Explained 3 Mar 2005
This is a well written and entertaining look at the origins of words and phrases in the English language. There are often myths that have arisen around the origin of terms that can be dismissed by looking for occurrences in print to see if the dates tie up. The only frustrating part is that often we don't know the true origin of a particular word or phrase! It's good that Quinion explains some expressions that don't make a lot of sense today, simply because of changes in language. Recommended if you are interested in the evolution of language, or are just curious about the origins of some well known expressions.
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77 of 80 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting 16 July 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Michael Quinion is in the business of dispelling language myths, as well as explaining etymologies and the meaning of common phrases and slang. He's being doing this for years on his excellent web site World Wide Words. This book is a distillation of some of the material that has appeared on his web site, in a simple A to Z format. It's thoughtful and well written, and explains lots of those irritating or puzzling terms and expressions ("cheap at half the price", "mind your Ps and Qs"). My one complaint is that it's printed on rather low quality paper. Otherwise very good, and I recommend the web site too, which has a whole lot more material on it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing and original 19 Jan 2007
By G. L. Haggett VINE VOICE
Very readable, enjoyable look at the origins of those words and phrases we use day in day out.

Unlike so many books of this ilk, this wears its learning very lightly and is not just an excuse for an author to parade his learning; indeed, Michael Quinion is not frightened to admit it if he does not know the answer.

I read it from cover to cover and enjoyed it thoroughly, but I have no doubt that I will be dipping into it from time to time in the future as well. Recommended for wordsmiths and for those with a keen curiosity about the world about us alike.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Informative but not very engaging 22 Dec 2005
I found this book to be quite interesting in some places, but too many times the author went through a protracted argument about why certain explanations of words are wrong. To add insult to injury, he would then admit he didn't really know where the meaning actual came from. I will keep it as a reference (like many other reviewers here) but wouldn't recommend it for an entertaining read
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 16 Mar 2012
By P.G.
Format:Kindle Edition
In-depth histories of the words and phrases we use every day without thinking about them. These are level, balanced accounts, and yet very readable. I found the whole book fascinating.
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5.0 out of 5 stars v useful. 18 Aug 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Puts a lot of myths to bed, v useful.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A very accurate book
He explodes various folk etymologies about English sayings - some of which were believable and some not. Very well researched.
Published 7 months ago by RAF engine fitter (rtd.)
4.0 out of 5 stars Demythologizing folk etymythology
People often wonder what is - or rather, what may be - the origin of certain words and phrases; and some of the answers to these questions are as various and as ingenious as they... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Ralph Blumenau
5.0 out of 5 stars Best on the subject
This is the best book on the subject of derivation of idioms - manners of speaking!
One lesson is that such words or phrases do NOT originate, as a rule, from acronyms (e.g. Read more
Published on 10 Jan 2011 by Eric Rachut
2.0 out of 5 stars the dust gatherer
Dear Michael,

I'm sure you spent hours compiling this collection but it was not worth it. However I would award five stars for a misleading title.
Published on 10 Jan 2011 by valhalla
4.0 out of 5 stars A joy to read.
Very interesting. Well written. A joy to read about the origins (true and alleged) of phrases.
Published on 19 Aug 2009 by Marcos Javier Garcia
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Dull
I found this book interesting but it failed to keep my attention. I have shelved it as a reference book as I am sure it will be helpful to me one day.
Published on 12 Feb 2005 by Ms D. Clinton
2.0 out of 5 stars Good idea but disappointing
This idea behind this book is great. It is such a shame that it is written in such a dry style. I felt I had many disappointing "oh" moments rather than enlightening "a-ha"... Read more
Published on 26 Oct 2004
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