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on 3 December 2004
This is the first review I have written, but I felt it necessary to correct a false statement in another review, particuarly since 28 of 32 people found the review (which gave the book only 1 star) helpful. Specifically,
QUOTE A lot of the words don't go back to the real origin. "Street' for example is said to be derived from the Latin "Strata" or "paved road", when the Latin actually comes from the Semitic, "Serat" for "straight road".UNQUOTE
Semitic "Serat" (also Arabic "Sirat") comes from Latin (via Greek as an intermediary) not the other way around as asserted by the reviewer. There is simply no doubt about this. As pointed out in the Chambers Dictionary, "Strata" is the past participle of the Latin verb STERNERE ("to lay down", "to spread out") which shares a common INDO-EUROPEAN origin with the Germanic root which is the basis of English STREW. I have not seen ANY etymological dictionary that has a different explanation, and I have consulted authoritative ones in English, French, Spanish, Italian and German. In English, this origin is confirmed by, among others, (i) the Oxford English Dictionary, (ii) the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.
A second comment of the same reviewer was
QUOTE The dictionary also lists many languages that use a specific word without telling us about the source of the word, which is what etymology is about.UNQUOTE
In fact, my impression is that the Chambers Dictionary gives far more information than other comparable etymological dictionaries in terms of the ultimate roots of words. Taking a word at random, for "make", Old English macian is traced back through Old Saxon makon to Proto-Germanic *makojanan from the Indo-European root *mag-. It is also shown to be cognate with Old High German mahhon, Old Frisian makia, Greek magenai ("to be kneaded, be molded") and mageus ("baker"), Old Slavic mazati ("anoint"), among others.
The Chambers Dictionary is one of the best I have seen, particularly in view of its not unreasonable price.
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on 19 December 2000
This is an impecably researched book and makes fascinating reading. It explains how the words we use today originated and when.
My only criticism of the book is that it has adopted American spellings of words in certain cases, e.g. smolder, rather than smoulder.
But it is competatively priced against the other etymology dictionaries. So, you pays your money and you takes your choice.
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on 20 June 2007
This is an excellent etymology dictionary. If I could sum it up with a single signifier, it would be CLEAR!

I compared this with the OED in-store and found that the clarity of entries - definition, history - in the Chambers by far exceeded that of its competitor - especially its minimal use of abbreviations (of which the OED was laden). Not only does the perspicuity of its entries place it above the OED, the Chambers' clear typeset, complimented by its leaf quality, elevated it even further over that of its ugly other, whose use of some obscenely obscure Romanesque font really didn't flatter its crude sheets of recycled Financial Times.

I would strongly advise this for those who are untrained in linguistics and/or philology. The OED retails at twice the price of Chambers, and from my perspective is 'clearly' inferior. This reference book will - for a long time to come - have its place by my bedside.

OED = Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology
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on 12 January 2010
You'll either find etymology (the origin and evolution of words) pointless or endlessly fascinating. All words can't be interesting, of course, but a surprising number are - and not just the crowd-pleasers like tawdry, from St Audrey's [neck-]lace. This book despite discernible American bias (it's really The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology en travesti) is supreme in its field. Mine's the '88 edition (xxvii, 1284p); I doubt it's changed since. Despite curious omissions* it would ornament any library. Quicker and more reliable than the web, scholarly and endlessly entertaining - I wish I'd known about it years ago

* Solipsism, for instance, or draconian, or the rarer bedizen, apparently cognate with distaff. It would be nice to have learned how Americans pronounced it. If they ever did. (Traditionally it rhymes with eyes-on.)

Postscript [after the 2014 referendum]
The other book you need by your elbow is Chambers Dictionary itself, for which no praise is too high, though again I'm comfortable with an older edition, the '93, the one when they dropped the 'Twentieth Century' tag. Why doesn't the Chambers brothers' mini-empire receive a fraction of the interest lavished on Murray and his Oxford cohort? Could it possibly be because they're (fie! the very idea!) Scottish? (Hands off our tongue, man!) Of course Murray too is a Scot, but 'one of ours'. Not that I'm advocating independence, now - at least not on economic grounds. But is the economy the only thing that counts? Bottom line, do you side with the coloniser or the colonised?
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on 11 April 2010
I chose this book on etymology above the oxford edition purely on other reviews and am not sorry I did so. It is an excellent tome, a perfect partner for my chambers dictionary.
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on 8 July 2010
A comprehensive work which recognises the close connection of english to Friesian and dutch, something that is sadly missing in many other works of this kind.
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on 27 February 2009
This book is equally useful (and endlessly fascinating) to the serious researcher as to someone simply interested in words, where they originate from, and particularly to those who love the English language.
In way of entertainment it beats any TV programme currently running!
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on 27 August 2013
This is a dream book for wordsmiths who like to know where words come from and how they have reached comtemporary usage. Ordinary dictionaries pale in comparison. Every user of words should have a dictionary of etymology!
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on 12 May 2011
Great value, and fascinating to delve into e.g. without it I'd never have known that the words adder, apron, umpire and nickname all share an unusual linguistic feature!
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on 9 January 2013
Bought as Xmas present for my daughter as she is very interested in the origin of words and their use. She is very pleased and I know it will be well thumbed.
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