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on 3 November 2011
Mark Forsyth's meanderings through the English language are carried off with a panache that frankly leaves other etymological 'dictionaries' looking dry, dusty and rightly shelf-bound. Indeed, the fact that the book starts with the phrase "a turn up for the books" indicates exactly that; this is not a reference book, but a new, unique and often hilarious way of drawing out the richness of English in the form of a comic journey through the verbal linkages, rhyming paths and allegorical alleyways which crowd the author's inventive mind. Equally, though you can dip in and out so it's ideal commuting reading. I was most amused to learn about the link between underwear and Christianity on my way home today. I shall be on Amazon stocking up on more copies to stock stockings before Christmas... Any link there?
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on 3 November 2011
This witty and erudite book was filed in the reference section of my local bookshop. But despite the slightly forbidding title, and the fact that it is full of enlightening facts and connections, it shouldn't be be bought for reference so much as enjoyment("edutainment", perhaps, although the eloquent Mr Forsyth would probably disapprove of such a clumsy coinage). Perhaps the best way to describe it is to say that it wears its learning very lightly.

The writer takes you on a whirlwind journey through a series of words and historical facts, ingeniously linking each one to the next. There's a fair amount of schoolboy humour, so perhaps not one to buy for someone who doesn't appreciate references to codpieces, but this all adds to the fun (who would have guessed that feisty came from a word meaning "fart"?)

It was very difficult to read this without smiling, both at the jokes and with the joy of discovering new and useless scraps of information.
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on 8 November 2011
what a wonderful compendium of interesting links between the words in our language. this is the perfect companion to an armchair and a log fire; and, after reading this book, you won't see English in the same way as you did before - you'll see English as a far friendlier entity, full of interconnections and pleasing self-references. buy 'the etymologicon' today, i urge you: if you want to enjoy all the more every single conversation you'll ever have in the future, that is.
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Like many people I am mildly interested in where words come from and I've occasionally read books like David Crystal's By Hook Or By Crook: A Journey in Search of English which looks at where English place-names come from. Unless books like these are skilfully written they can quickly become tedious and its usually best to get this sort of information in smallers chunk from newspapers or magazines.

Mark Forsyth publishes the Inky Fool blog in which he looks at the derivation of words, but links one to another in a humorous ramble through the English language. Mark is one of those lucky bloggers who's blog has now become a book, The Etymologicon, and I have to say, it makes for a very good read which I've been dipping into over the last week.

Its probably better to illustrate Mark's methods with an example than to describe them. For example, in a chapter headed A Game of Chicken Mark describes how in medieval France people used to gamble by putting money in a pot then throwing stones at a chicken until someone hit it. This was the game of poule, which is French for chicken. Later on, the pot of money in the middle of a card table came to be known as the poule and this term was picked up by English gamblers who changed the spelling to pool.

We read on to learn the forward connections to the game of pool and then to pooling money, and resources and then onto typing pools and car pools and ends with pointing gout that we have all become part of the gene pool "which, etymologically, means that we are all little bits of chicken".

I was surprised how in order to get his connections Mark has to link words from all the European languages. I'd heard before that most of our languages spring from a root called Proto Indo European but it never struck me how much of the English language is derived from this source.

This is a nicely produced book which would be a perfect gift for anyone who might be interested in where our words come from.
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This is a good book if you’re willing to slog through it, and it’s instructive to read the piece on Milton, without whom we wouldn’t have words such as terrific, stunning, loquacious, Satanic, exhilarating, lovelorn and strangely enough cooking. “And because he was a Puritan, he invented words for all the fun things of which he disapproved. Without dear old Milton we would have no debauchery, no depravity, no extravagance, in fact nothing enjoyable at all,” says Forsyth. The tone of the above tells you, no doubt, that this book doesn’t have a serious delivery. I’m all for levity in it’s place, but much of this is simply matey, It’s as if you’re reading someone’s blog a lot of the time, which in point of fact you may be, as Forsyth is a blogger, otherwise known as ‘The Inky Fool’ - though he says that the majority of the book is not drawn from blogging extracts.

Nevertheless, he is interesting on the derivation of our different languages, as he is about translations from the bible. For instance, this:

“The strange children shall fail and be afraid out of their prisons.”

This, as Forsyth tells us, is from a Psalter that is still used in Church of England services today. It is, though wrongly translated by a man called Coverdale and should read as follows: “The foreign-born shall obey; and come trembling from their strongholds.”

But the best of Coverdale’s mistranslations is about Joseph whose neck, we are told in Psalm 105, was bound in iron. The problem is that Hebrew uses the same word for neck as it does for soul. The word is nefesh, and it usually means neck or throat, but it can mean breath and it can also mean soul, because the soul is the breath of life. This all got mixed up together and produced the wonderful phrase “The iron entered into his soul.” Forsyth tells us, “Nobody cared that it was a mistranslation.” The inventiveness of language is supreme, although, my feeling about this book is that you may need to be a word fetishist to really enjoy it.
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on 21 December 2011
Not so much a circular stroll as a madcap chase, this is a book which never stays still for a moment and is constantly veering off in unexpected directions.

Another reviewer complains that the author is trying to make etymology "accessible", but I think he's aiming far higher: he's trying to make etymology funny, and he succeeds in spades.
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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
***This review is specific to the unabridged audiobook read by Simon Shepherd.***

I am a lover of recondite trivia. And though I rarely manage to make use of it for anything more constructive than a crossword, I also have a love of language and all the ins and outs. It is therefore with great pleasure that I listened to this highly informative, witty and downright entertaining audiobook.

Mark Forsythe has a love of words and a dry sense of humour. The book is a wonderful exploration of the English language, and uses etymological connections to leap from word to word, telling the often fascinating stories behind words and showing how various words which mean very different things today are in fact connected. Particular favourites are the many uses of the word buffalo, and the link between science and s*** (I am a scientist, and I can assure Mr. Forsythe that in a great many cases there is still a very strong link between some things called science and its etymological sibling).

Fortsythe leaps from word to word with a degree of abandon, in an almost scatological meander through the language. He tells stories behind the words in a style that is very reminiscent of Sellar and Yeatman's opus `1066 And All That'. In fact at times it felt that I was listening to extracts from the great book. It really is delightful. Simon Shepherds delivery is suitably restrained, but full of emphasis and with an undercurrent of subcersive fun. I was very strongly reminded of `The Book' from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series, the slightly matter of fact delivery of improbable facts was very similar to Peter Jones in that series.

There are 6 discs with a little over an hour per disc, all held in a spindle disc case. There are no liner notes other than a brief note about the reader and author.

Almost perfect for a trivia loving logophile. The only criticism - it's too short! More please!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 January 2012
It's a very good job I have short-term recall of facts. Otherwise, no friend would be able to have a conversation with me without me pouncing all over their words and unravelling and re-connecting them. As it is, I will just be restricted to pouncing on the word and saying - you know that word GENERAL you just used well read that fabulous book The Etymologicon and see how it links to people making oaths hand-on-testicles.

I would love to invite this author to dinner, (though I might not get, or want, a word in edgeways!) such is the absorbed, inventive, eclectic, playful mind, weaving together such a fascinating circularity of linguistic musing. Derivations can be an interesting, but often rather dryly explained topic. Not here. Forsyth is erudite, witty, conversational, and enormously excited and passionate about his subject, sweeping the reader enthusiastically upwards and onwards in a great circle of linguistic connections. This is a smile-on-your-face-laugh-out-loud-gosh-that-is-FASCINATING-I-want-to-know-more sort of book.

I was delighted to find that my undergarments for my nether regions have compassionate origins (The much beleaguered patron saint of Venice, Saint Pantaleon, (means All-Compassionate); Venetians often then referred to as Pantaloni ; Commedia del Arte gives the character Pantalone wearing the typical style of breeches, Pantaloons, worn by those Venetians; Pants!

As for Stanley Kubrick? Well Milton was the inventor, like Shakespeare, of a huge number of words and phrases which are now common coinage in our language. One of these Miltonic words was the word 'Space' applied cosmologically.

So, without Milton, Kubrick's seminal (!) film might have had to be called 2001-A Great Void Odyssey. Which could have been a disaster, as the subliminal linguistic message might have been interpreted as 2001 - one to A-Void. Particularly if someone was familiar with connections to matters lavatorial and colonic irrigation in the non-Miltonic ways of describing the cosmos (you'll have to work it out)

Brilliant book!
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on 3 December 2011
Loved it when I flicked through in the bookshop. Stylish cover. Started reading and couldn't stop - perfect for picking up at idle moments or leaving in the loo.
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I am a lover of recondite trivia. And though I rarely manage to make use of it for anything more constructive than a crossword, I also have a love of language and all the ins and outs. It is therefore with great pleasure that I read this highly informative, witty and downright entertaining book.

Mark Forsythe has a love of words and a dry sense of humour. The book is a wonderful exploration of the English language, and uses etymological connections to leap from word to word, telling the often fascinating stories behind words and showing how various words which mean very different things today are in fact connected. Particular favourites are the many uses of the word buffalo, and the link between science and s*** (I am a scientist, and I can assure Mr. Forsythe that in a great many cases there is still a very strong link between some things called science and its etymological sibling).

Fortsythe leaps from word to word with a degree of abandon, in an almost scatological meander through the language. He tells stories behind the words in a style that is very reminiscent of Sellar and Yeatman's opus `1066 And All That'. In fact at times it felt that I was reading extracts from the great book. It really is delightful.

In all this is an entertaining and informative book, a real joy to read from cover to cover. 5 stars.
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