First of all, I have to admit that I went against the author's recommendation and read this book from cover to cover; alas, at least so far, I have not suffered from any ill-effects. A warning to any prospective readers though: while reading this, what Mark Forsyth calls a serious "reference work", I was rather prone to reading out random passages to my unsuspecting husband who had no choice but to listen. Please bear that in mind before you decide to buy the book.
As the front cover tells us, this is "A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language", starting at 6 a.m. and ending at midnight. Each chapter, comprising of one hour, deals with one major activity particular to that time of day, such as Waking and Washing, Dressing and Breakfast, and Commute. In his preambulation, the author hopes that this book will be used as a reverse dictionary: rather than asking "What does xyz mean?", he encourages the reader to ask "What's the word?" for a particular activity, then check the time and find the answer in this handy reference book, such as: "I really don't feel like going in to work today, I have to call up my boss to feign sickness", for which the word is egrote. The fact that my laptop's inbuilt spellchecker has just flagged it up just shows you how forgotten and obscure these words have (unfortunately) become. So your boss will not have the faintest idea that what you're really doing is whindling because you're suffering from a hum durgeon. The author's whimsical and easy-going conversational style of writing rather masks his eloquence and hard work that has obviously gone into this book, and it is easy to tell that it is a true labour of love, peppered as it is with such lovely alliterations such as herbaceous hedonism and linguistic lowlands. It made me chuckle and even laugh out loud on numerous occasions because I could transfer what I read so easily to myself or recognise it in my husband. It is obvious that Mark Forsyth possesses a rather impish sense of mischief which is most easily recognisable when he talks about the cleverly disguised insults that could be hurled at any person of disfavour and without them being any the wiser; these, along with some fascinating etymological snippets, are some of the best bits in my opinion. This is an absolute treasure trove of obscure and forgotten words that deserve to be brought back to light and into the current dictionaries. I say we start a campaign to resurrect a word from each chapter; wouldn't that be a linguistic achievement to find that bellibone has now had its first documented use since 1586? Who's with me?