on 29 February 2012
I think the repackaging of a book first published in 1884, in a smart new edition, is a bit of a con.
Anyone interested in English etymology might reasonably expect from the title of this book, and its smart contemporary cover,to be a modern work, and would be grievously disappointed if they start to use it as a practical guide to the origins of modern English.
This is not to disparage Skeat, who was after all one of the great pioneers of English etymology, and recognized as such by later scholars in this field such as Murray, Onions and Partridge (as the back cover points out).
Like most sciences, however, etymology has moved on, and Skeat is of limited value for practical modern use. Indeed it seems rather quaint today, and many words, especially foreign imports, are not dealt with, even though they must have been current in the English of his day.
I'm glad I now have a copy of this seminal work, but I don't expect to use it except to make historical comparisons, especially as some of its apparently authoritative roots are not considered correct, e.g. 'drub', 'girl', 'boy', 'strawberry'.
A comparison might be if one bought a late 19th-century book about physics, or evolution. Interesting, but hardly authoritative.
The fact that Skeat is now out of copyright must have been a major attraction to the publishers of this edition!