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Word Origins And How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone

Word Origins And How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone [Kindle Edition]

Anatoly Liberman
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product Description


Prof. Liberman's excellent book would make a fine Christmas present for anyone interested in the history of the English language. (Irish Times,)

Product Description

Written in a funny, charming, and conversational style, Word Origins is the first book to offer a thorough investigation of the history and the science of etymology, making this little-known field accessible to everyone interested in the history of words.
Anatoly Liberman, an internationally acclaimed etymologist, takes the reader by the hand and explains the many ways that English words can be made, and the many ways in which etymologists try to unearth the origins of words. Every chapter is packed with dozens of examples of proven word histories, used to illustrate the correct ways to trace the origins of words as well as some of the egregiously bad ways to trace them. He not only tells the known origins of hundreds of words, but also shows how their origins were determined. And along the way, the reader is treated to a wealth of fascinating word facts. Did they once have bells in a belfry? No, the original meaning of belfry was siege tower. Are the words isle and island, raven and ravenous, or pan and pantry related etymologically? No, though they look strikingly similar, these words came to English via different routes.
Partly a history, partly a how-to, and completely entertaining, Word Origins invites readers behind the scenes to watch an etymologist at work.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1628 KB
  • Print Length: 333 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (16 Mar 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S. r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006K0M30E
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #338,100 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars lovely book badly needs proofreading 9 July 2010
I very much enjoyed reading this - it's full of interesting material, engagingly presented. BUT, it badly needs proofreading - a disappointment to find this from such a respectable publisher. Is it the author's responsibility or the publisher's? Somehow it's fallen between the two stools here ...
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1.0 out of 5 stars Word Origins: but not for everyone. 24 Dec 2012
By jbm
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a book for academics, but certainly not for the layman, and it is misleading to recommend it as if it is on a par with the justifiably popular Etymologicon.

The author, having made his own etymological dictionary, has seen fit to list his own laboured excursions into the recondite recesses of of the subject, wading through a swathe of scholarly debates, which he seems to think we should find edifying - a hope undermined by his ponderous style.
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4 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars word origins 13 July 2009
A Kid's Review
did you know? ....... that's where that word originated from! learn from this book the origns of certain words and their meanings derived from their first use in day to day life.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.4 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Juicy Read, with some Minuses 6 Jun 2010
By Dick Grune - Published on
This book makes one realize that there are two kinds of etymologies: the one that tries to explain terms like "hackney" and "jack-o-lantern"; and the one that tries to explain terms like "hand" and "bring". The first makes you search through medieval tomes and books about ancient crafts; the second causes one to delve into ablaut series and next to unpronounceable Proto-Indo-European (PIE) words that look more like formulas (which they partly are). The first yields a number of anecdotal and often amusing stories, the second dry-as-dust formal word derivations. The author, although acknowledging the existence of the second, is clearly much more interested in the first; PIE figures only sporadically in the text and does not even occur in the index.

This approach makes the book a juicy read, especially on "funny" English words; the sections on ablaut series etc. lack the same flourish and are mercifully small. Yet even in the juicy part there are quite a number of promising
paragraphs that lead nowhere. For example, on page 101 we learn that "Cockney" has an interesting origin, but that origin is never revealed.

Much too much to my taste is attributed to sound symbolism (page 212: the b in "to beat" is suggested to be "imitative (echoic)" of the beating action; the argument is that out of 115 synonyms of "beat, strike" about 20 begin with a b) or explained as "baby words" (pig - big - bag for "swollen things"). I think such claims are warranted only when supported by similar phenomena from several non-Indo-European languages. I personally cannot find back any of these sound symbolisms in Hebrew, the only Non-IE language I know well. Latin "capere" (to take), Finnish "kappan" (to seize) and Hebr. "kaf" (hollow hand) may very well be related (and I think they probably are) but I don't hear any sound symbolism in them (page 43). For that matter, Hebr. "khataf" (he grabbed) sounds much more like seizing.

The editing is far from perfect; one problem is that the Old-English/Icelandic letter "thorn" (a p with an upward stick like a b) is often printed as a p (f.e. page 83). In summary, the subtitle "Etymology for Everybody" is fully justified, but it is a limited form of etymology.
3.0 out of 5 stars Filled my curiosity, but…. 20 Mar 2014
By Richard L. Henry - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I've always had an interest in this subject. I had not studied Greek or Latin in school, but should have. The book was informative to me, a layman, and helped in my understanding of English words and how they changed over the centuries. I am familiar with Spanish and French derivatives and the book informed my of the many words that are of German and even Viking ancestry. I also learned how long the science of etymology has been pursed and all the difficulties and ambiguities that come along in the process. The biggest problem I had was the author's use of esoteric Old English or German letters in the spelling of words that are or possibly are etymons for "modern" English words. I did indeed learn that etymology is a vast subject indeed and I find myself analyzing words that I come across now with more understanding of where they originated.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice Book. 11 July 2013
By S. Shelton - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this for my stepson.He's really enjoying it very much. He's using it for school. Thank you very much.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a very interesting topic presented in a surprisingly dull way 17 Nov 2011
By A. Wallwork - Published on
As someone who reads etymological dictionaries (English, French and Italian) for fun I was expecting something more upbeat. This is an incredibly interesting topic - tracing a word's history is like tracing the culture of a nation. I am an academic myself, so I wasn't expecting or wanting this book to be dumbed down, but I found it extremely dry - so dry in fact that I quickly began flitting through the book in the hope of finding some interesting insights. If you've never read anything before on etymology or etymologists, then you might find it worthwhile buying the book. If not ...
17 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars thorough, but a little self gratifying 28 Jun 2007
By ProfJBH - Published on
The author of this book is highly knowledgeable about the origins of words and attuned to the many misconceptions non-etymologists may have about the subject. However, the authors love of word origins seems to impede his ability to discuss them in a clear and concise fashion. So many words are presented in every chapter - even the titles of the chapters consist of too many words - that the reader looses track of the topic in that particular chapter. Thorough, but could be organized (and edited) a bit better.
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