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The Concise Dictionary of English Etymology (Wordsworth Reference) Paperback – 25 Nov 1993

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd; New edition edition (25 Nov. 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1853263117
  • ISBN-13: 978-1853263118
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 12.8 x 3.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 139,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
W. W. Skeat was a leading light in the history of scholarship on the English language, and this book is one of the fruits of his labour. The origins of thousands of English words are given not just in reference to attested ancestral forms and known cognates, but also giving the postulated Indo-European root from whence they all came where applicable, thus supplying more information than any standard dictionary would.

Short appendices include prefixes and suffixes, Indo-European roots, homonyms and doublets (two different words with the same origin), and a section "distribution of words according to their derivation" which considers the languages from which English has taken words, along with many specific examples having taken some considerably tortuous routes via several languages.

Because this work is now a century old, it does not of course include many neologisms from the intervening period, and continuing scholarship may have different things to say about the origins of some words. For example Skeat has "orchard" as coming from a pure Old English combination "wyrt" + "geard", whereas more modern works tend to have this as Latin "hortus" + Old English "geard" > "ortgeard" > "orchard".

Archaisms include Skeat's use of the obsolete terms "Aryan" for what today we call "Indo-European" and "Anglo-Saxon" where today we would say "Old English", plus roots are written square root prefixed and capitalised, for example "√'BHA", whereas the modern system would write "*bha-"; for some reason, in the main body of the text the square root sign has not appeared in the printing, leaving an odd-looking space. Victorian sensibilities mean the lack of any naughty words - well, as Blackadder said to Dr Johnson, that's what every dictionary will be used for.
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Format: Paperback
I carry this book around in my car, and have the unabridged in my office. They are incredibly useful source of insight - listen to the words people emphasize or repeat, then look them up here for "the rest of the story". The best of many etymological dictionaries out there for this use.
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Format: Paperback
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!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9f0b85b8) out of 5 stars 16 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9f077018) out of 5 stars Useful for insight into people's "real" meaning. 1 Mar. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I carry this book around in my car, and have the unabridged in my office. They are incredibly useful source of insight - listen to the words people emphasize or repeat, then look them up here for "the rest of the story". The best of many etymological dictionaries out there for this use.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9fbe58f4) out of 5 stars Origins of Words 22 May 2011
By Poetical Psyche - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This won't be a long review. This book is not for everyone. It is for anyone who finds the roots and origins of language interesting. If you write you could find tremendous value in exploring word origination, and how words have evolved and changed throughout time. Outside of being interested in this type of reference material, I don't know why you'd purchase it. I do find word origins very interesting, therefore I rate this book very highly for it's process and depth of information.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0073e40) out of 5 stars For Lovers of James Joyce and Poetry 27 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If you love or like James Joyce, you'll love this book. It was his favorite book. It is a benefit to have this book when reading _Ulysses_ or _Finnegans Wake_. And for any poet in love with language, this book is vital.
HASH(0x9f531288) out of 5 stars A favorite reference for discovering the real meaning of words 15 Aug. 2013
By Molly Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This wonderful reference integrates English words into "stem" words or base words that have similar meanings. Despite the author's bias toward Latin, it is still an excellent resource for finding connections between English and ancient Greek (which is what I use it for). I also like that the etymologies appear to be in semi-chronological order (with Greek at the top) which makes it easy to see the progression of meanings through history. There are many uses for this gem, not only for students but anyone interested in the meaning of words. Fun to browse, but thorough enough to give a scholar some new ideas.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9f444aec) out of 5 stars Excellent 6 Dec. 2013
By C-Dogg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great resource, thanks Dr. Savage for the recommendation! Everyone should now this in light of the abuse of our language.
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