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The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English Paperback – 2 Apr 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (2 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719564557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719564550
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 232,615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'Hitchings's excavations are a treat. He presents the best gleanings of academia in a winning, conversational style. Almost every spadeful yields an etymological nugget . . . elegantly and entertainingly written' (Financial Times)

'[It] disentangles an intriguing narrative from a mass of information, revealing the distinct cultural climates that produced certain words and bearing witness to an increasing global language, always morphing into something new' (Guardian)

'A fascinating exploration of the rich borrowings, exchanges and couplings of the language' (Ben Macintyre, The Times)

'Hitchings delves into words, resurfacing with their surprising origins' (The Times)

'It is a book that brings etymology fizzingly alive ... it teems with vivid, quirky evidence of the way the English vocabulary bears continuing witness to our cultural history' (Sunday Times)

'His book is a patient, thorough and highly entertaining excavation' (Sunday Times)

'Hitchings's examples cover the full span of English' (Observer)

'Expert analysis ... this is a wonderfully well-organised and entertaining book, which thoroughly deserved to win last year's John Llewellyn Rhys Prize' (Daily Mail)

'Hitchings has teased out the stories lurking behind the language to provide a most satisfying whole' (Publishing News)

'Much more than a collage of etymological trivia, this is a dense and thorough excavation of the stories that lie behind the words we say' (Metro)

'Quite how Hitchings has managed to wrestle this dizzying mountain of dense information into such an elegant narrative . . . is a feat almost as admirable as that of the great lexicographer. His book is painstakingly detailed, closely argued and suffused with a contagious enthusiasm for the secrets woven into the fabric of our words (Daily Telegraph)

'Hitchings steps deftly round the traps and the stereotypes, while throwing up great clouds of delicious trivia' (Peter Robins, Daily Telegraph)

'Filled with fascinating nuggets' (Independent)

'A thrilling narrative history of our uniquely beautiful and thriving language' (Catholic Herald)

'Comprehensive guide ... with countless revelations and world-related trivia, this is the often surprising story of the words we take for granted' (Heritage)

'This is a hugely informative and non-academic account' (Sunday Tribune)

'Fascinating subject ... a detailed, comprehensive study ...there are lots of surprises, and the author's enthusiasm is infectious. An entertaining and informative read' (Shropshire Star)

Much more interesting than a simple dictionary of etymology (Writing Magazine)

Marvellous, scholarly and beautifully written, quite the best of its kind I have read in years ... wise and witty (Oldie)

'Wonderfully detailed history ... a rich and rewarding read' (Good Book Guide)

'The author's deliverings reveal much that intrigues about our history and about our social environment' (This England)

Book Description

Journey into the history of English and discover how words have been absorbed into our language to make it what it is today.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Has a comprehensive bibliography for future research, and two sets of indicies so can be used as a text book. However you can also read it as a story book. I was surprised just how fascinating the history and development of the concepts behind each of the words described turned out to be.
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Format: Hardcover
Wow! Chanced across this book and thought it sounded good, but it is far better than that! If you have ever wondered about the origin of words in English, want to know which words come to us via where (and often when and why!) or what a calque is (makes you think twice about your mortgage!) then consider this book: it's word trivia galore! Very readable, easy to reference, highly enjoyable and absolutely fascinating.
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Format: Hardcover
Much more than words - a tour round English history through the medium of our language. Very readable and disappointing to finish!
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Format: Paperback
Getting to know you
Getting to feel free and easy
When I am with you
Getting to know what to say
- The King And I - Getting To Know You Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Did you ever wonder how English became English? There are a plethora of books on the word origins, some amusing, and some in depth. But no other book quite as well targets how it got from there to here as Henry Hitchings' descriptions.

Occasionally he appears to be wordy but don't let this fool you. Everything he says leads to a point. And it's the point of why you're reading this book.

One book cannot hold everything. However the author makes a good stab at it here. Just going through the bibliographies and indexes will take quite some time.

I've read books on euphemisms and anachronisms and found them interesting. Yet I never realized how interesting just common words could be. Knowing a little bit of their origin I do strive to say things like children instead of kids. And always wonder what happened to kine?

In any event will find a lot of information packed into a small book. You will wonder how you live so long without knowing this information.

This book is a keeper for your library and you will want to reference it periodically.
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Format: Paperback
The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English (Paperback) give a brilliant account of hoe and when the various words that were introduced into the English language and also how that langusge changed and adopted including non-Englisg words into every day use. It is surprising thh amount of words that were introduced. This is a good book for the study ot the development of the Englaih language
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have an interest in languages, and thought that this would be a very interesting book to read. Unfortunately, the book tends to wander, there is no real structure to the lay out of the book, there is no clear beginning, middle and end. There are several instances where he lists off words just like that, so called loan words in English, and I am not afraid to say I never use them even though it is claimed that
these are in everyday use. Occasionally there are glimpses of interesting passages but these are interrupted by more word lists.

I would not even called the book academic, even though there are lots of references. It is not at all comprehensive, as he is very biased, he mentions English in the USA and Canada, but fails to cite the influence of Irish (Gaelic) on English, and there are several examples, eg clann, he even gets the word "Uisce Beatha" completely wrong (from which whiskey/whisky come from). What about smithereens, smashing, galore, esker etc etc etc? What about Hiberno English?

Finally may I say that this book is hard going.... I forced myself to read it right to the end just to see if any references were made to Irish Gaelic.

Don't bother!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fantastic book. Full of information about the English language. Written in such a way you don't want to put it down.
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Format: Paperback
This lists where words where derived from but does not really explain the transformations. It would have been better going into more depth on fewer words and tracing their alterations.
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