The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English Paperback – 2 Apr 2009
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'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)
Journey into the history of English and discover how words have been absorbed into our language to make it what it is today.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Item as described, with slight wear on cover. Prompt delivery.Published 16 months ago by Jonathan D Cutting
Great book with interesting insights to our language in EnglandPublished on 6 July 2014 by S. R. Boxall
Product as stated. Good value for money and swiftly delivered. The book itself is endlessly fascinating and the author writes with great clarity.Thank you very much.Published on 7 May 2014 by The travelling knifegrinder
I love this book. I am learning so much about how our language evolved. I can dip into it when I have time and it is easy to understandPublished on 7 Dec. 2013 by Mrs H
I borrowed this book from a library and thought I'd actually buy it because it's really interesting. Read morePublished on 3 Aug. 2013 by Meg
dont be fooled by the trendy cover-this is NOT 'words for dummies'.the breadth is breathtaking so dont think you can dip in and out. Read morePublished on 13 May 2013 by jon smith
Oh dear..unfortunately this was a dreadful book that I couldnt complete. Whole chapters went by and the author kept droning on and on and on endlessly. Read morePublished on 22 Nov. 2012 by Mrs. T. Begum