on 27 October 2012
After really enjoying 'The Etymologicon' last year, I had great expectations of Mark Forsyth's new book and thankfully it didn't disappoint. 'The Horologicon' is the same but different: crucially, the dry, clever wit present in the previous book is still there and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the new one is also about words. However, it's the nature of these words that marks the book out as being different, and even more worthwhile, than the first. Whereas The Etymologicon dealt with everyday words and phrases - a much travelled path in the world of books although never previously with such an entertaining guide - 'The Horologicon' is all about forgotten words, ones with their own peculiar and distinct meaning and flavour. To make the trip through this language that time forgot as enjoyable as possible, the author sets up his tour brilliantly by following day in the life of you, me and he himself. What felt like everyday commonplace is made all the richer for it. I only hope I'm not guilty of 'ultracrepidarianism'! But you can be the judge of that.
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 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?
I haven't read anything else by Mark Forsyth and wasn't sure what to expect. Certainly wasn't expecting this wonderful mix of fun and fact. Full credit has to go to Forsyth if only for the amount of work that went into researching The Horologicon. Firstly; this isn't a book you'd necessarily want to sit down and read from cover to cover in one sitting. The Horologicon is more a book you dip in and out off for fun, or inspiration, unless you're a English language buff or a quiz master. Written in the form of a book of hours, the chapters are broken up into time slices:-
Chapter 1:- 6 am - Dawn
Chapter 2: 7 am - Waking and Washing
Continuing through until Midnight.
Each time slice contains a selection of extraordinary words relative to their own particular time of day. You might not think you'll ever use words like these but; once you've read the book I'll bet you're soon dropping them into the conversation. It's impossible not to do it once you've become "infected". My favourite is "quidnunc" - you'll have to read the book. I know a great many of them!.
Of course, The Horologican isn't simply a list of words or the usual Dictionary. Each word is accompanied by a wealth of information explaining it's origin, type, history and, even more importantly, where it should sit in a sentence so you sound as though you know what you're talking about!.
If you're writing a speech, hosting a quiz, interested in the English language or just want a laugh then you'll get a great deal of fun out of The Horologicon.
I adored The Etymologicon (the Radio 4 CD version was so gripping I found myself sitting in the car and refusing to get out until I'd heard to the end of the current item), but for me this is a weak successor.
It's a compendium of little known words presented as for use at different times of day. So breakfast words for the morning, nightclub words for the evening. So you can laugh about how telling a modern woman she's a 'bellibone' probably won't please her as it would her ancestors, but that's pretty much it.
That's not to say there aren't some fabulous Etymologicon style snippets in here, and some items really are laugh out loud, but it's just a bit charmless compared to it's earlier partner.
I'll also admit I was quite peeved by the author's confession (on page 248) that he made up one of the words in the book, but won't say which one. It could be the one you shared with people around you, the one you most remembered, the one that made you laugh. Who knows? But not saying which one was the lie renders every word in the book a possible fiction, so why bother reading it?
on 21 December 2012
Are you looking for that wonderful gift to present to the individual in your life who appears to have swallowed a lexicon with their mornings repast, and have you been a bit tardy in getting said article? Well fret not here is an awesome nay, Brobdingnagian offering that could easily engender feelings of exuberance and even adoration from said recipient!
In his preambulation Mark Forsyth states that this book is for those words that are..
"To beautiful to live long, too amusing to be taken seriously, too precise to become common, too vulgar to survive in polite company, or too poetic to thrive in this age of prose."
He goes on to say that these words languish away in old and arenaceous dictionaries, that these are the lost words and the great secrets of civilisations that can still be of use today.
What sets this marvellous read apart from your standard lexicon is the method of recording used does not follow the A - Z format. In fact the writer states that by having words arranged alphabetically within a dictionary you render them useless as they bear no relation to their neighbouring words and are estranged from those words they share a relationship with (for example in the Oxford English Dictionary, wine and corkscrew are separated by seventeen volumes). This led the author after hours of rumination and a degree of puttering to fix upon the idea of using the medieval book of hours as his solution to this dilemma, in the process reinventing the reference book for the modern world and it's constant haste. With this method all one needs to do is to check the time of day via whatever clepsydra you prefer and then by referring to the correct page within this publication - suitable words should avail themselves for your use and the delectation of all within earshot.
The Horologicon (or book of hours) is the partner to last years The Etymologicon, and like that wonderful book, uses Mark's Inky Fool blog, as it's reference point. Where as the previous work, threaded us through the strange connection that exist between words, The Horologicon, is literally a book of hours, charting the period from just before the moment day-raw streaks red across the sky and guiding us through the day and eventide up until Bulls-noon, where we, having wished bene darkmans to our loved ones, will hopefully be ensconced in our dreamery, asleep in those arms of Morpheus.
This was a BBC radio 4 book of the week (read by Hugh Dennis) and was described as:
"The Horologicon (or book of hours) gives you the most extraordinary words in the English language, arranged according to the hour of the day when you really need them. Do you wake up feeling rough? Then you're philogrobolized. Pretending to work? That's fudgelling, which may lead to rizzling if you feel sleepy after lunch, though by dinner time you will have become a sparkling deipnosophist. From Mark Forsyth, author of the bestselling The Etymologicon, this is a book of weird words for familiar situations. From ante-jentacular to snudge by way of quafftide and wamblecropt, at last you can say, with utter accuracy, exactly what you mean."
"This is a reference work. You should on no account attempt to read it cover to cover. If you do, Hell itself will have no horrors for you, and neither the author nor his parent company will accept liability for any suicides, rampages, or crazed nudity that may result." Mark Forsyth.
on 17 December 2012
I love, love, loved Mark Forsyth's previous book The Etymologicon. So much so that I had to make a second post just to talk about all the words I tweeted about whilst reading it. I was super excited to read The Horologicon, and had planned to buy it when I went to a Mark Forsyth event which was meant to be last week (but was cancelled because apparently people in Birmingham don't appreciate words *sob*), however when I saw it up on netgalley I snatched it up right away.
Maybe my expectations were too high but I didn't like it as much.I think partially because it was in much bigger blocks. You couldn't pick it up, read a paragraph and put it down again. That made it less tweetable, and also made it less easy to remember the words and information.
Maybe because it was on a less broad topic I found less of the words really interested me too, although I did tweet a couple which interested me. I did find I was telling other people about what I was reading rather than tweeting it because that broke my reading flow less. My boyfriend claimed that Forsyth made half the book up, but I think he's (my boyfriend) just being cynical.
I like the idea that you could skip between chapters depending on what time of the day it was, but it's not very realistic. I did find occasionally my reading fit with what I was doing- and I think the experience was improved by that.
If you liked The Etymologicon you will probably like this one too, but if you haven't read either I would recommend The Etymologicon over this one.
This is a strange book.
The Author describes it thus "A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language", starting at 6 a.m. and ending at midnight.
Well yes but it has each chapter dealing with just one hour throughout the day.
So it concentrates on the words we associate with that time of the day so
waking up then washing and dressing ourselves then our breakfast and travel to work etc.
The author recommends that you do not read it in all one go but rather read it at the time of day you happen to be in.
He is right of course and I really suspect that is the way to get the full advantage out of this entertaining book.
Like many others I have deposited mine in the smallest room in the house.
To some this is strange- to others this is perfectly understandable- each to their own.
I must admit I am enjoying reading it this way rather than in a whole chunk.
Simply put it is too dense to take in all at one-( if you pardon the expression for where I do my reading of it)- in one sitting!!
The reading age is quite mature so this is not a book for children in the way that those plethora of books you see with titles like `Can a bear run down hill? And `How to fossilize your Hamster and the like.
So it's a present for an adult that enjoys words and reading and possibly the times cryptic crossword!
Mark Forsyth began his ascent to fame with the Etymologicon, in which he explored the history of words, not in anything so dull as alphabetic order but following a circular route from 'a turn up for the books' and letting each subject lead him to the next.
In The Horologicon, he turns his attention to words that have been lost from the English language and does so by following a person's day, finding him lying abed just before dawn worrying (uhtceare) and leaving him many hours later in his 'consopiation', or lying down ready for sleep. The chances of reviving any of his words seem slim, even when it is very useful to have a single word to cover what needs a whole phrase in modern English, but Forsyth's wit is such that the journey itself is worth the cab fare. Some words are a little dubious -- uhtceare appears only once in Anglo-Saxon texts so was clearly not in widespread use-- but who cares when it's such a joy to roll in your mouth. Did you sleep well? Yes, until 4am when I had a bout of uhtceare. Try telling that one to your doctor.
This is one of those books destined to a life of being a Christmas present for the person (probably male) you are never quite sure what to buy. It will join books like QI:The Book of General Ignorance and the many Schotts' books on the bookshelf and will be, occasionally, dipped into to provide a wry moment of amusement.
The book is a list of forgotten words from the English language arranged as a book of hours, whatever time of day you can open the book, find the relevant page and find a word to suit what you might be doing at that time. Generally I get the feeling the book was probably more fun for the author who is someone who, I feel, relishes in research and poring over lists of words from tomes in libraries. For the casual etymologist it is the equivalent of light banter at a dinner party, where the etymologist might enjoy dropping in some of these words.
Overall a book which is a mild diversion at best ...
Whilst this book does indeed contain a feast of fine words to absorb into ones mental thesaurus it fails to read in the same highly entertaining way that the superb Etymologicon did. In fact, I have set the book down in order to pursue further gratification in other tomes.