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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 December 2015
There is no real logic to this book. It moves from one word or historical fact on to another in a seemingly random fashion following one connection or peripheral idea and then linking to another. This means that it is not a reference book but just an interesting collection of facts for those of us who love words. I found it extremely enjoyable and very interesting because the author often delves back to the origin of words and then shows how they link to others. He also gives us bits of historical facts about how words were originally used and then how they have changed to be used as we do today.

I wouldn't read this book all in one go because there is just so much information to take in. It is best consumed in chunks - at least that was my theory, but I found it almost impossible to put it down because I wanted to see his next link. This did mean that I read large sections and then couldn't really remember how things connected - but I did, very much, enjoy it when reading it.

You are not going to finish by knowing anything at all useful. You also won't know anything in depth - to do that you will have to read something more scholarly. What you do end up with is a very enjoyable read, wallowing in words and meanings and picking up little snippets of information about words, their meaning and their history as you go.
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on 12 April 2017
An utter delight. Mark has an incredible way with language, and clearly enjoys giving you the punchline then working you backwards towards it. Example: He'll tell you that Starbucks Coffee is named after a muddy ditch in Yorkshire. Intrigued? In 2 or 3 brisk, witty pages he'll explain exactly how that is. And every chapter ends with some kind of fun gag or wordplay that leads neatly into the next. You can read this in little 5-minute chunks or really plough through it. I picked it up in paperback when it was released and read it several times over, then got a Kindle copy just to always have it on me for a bit of fun. Also great fun to confuse your friends with. They think you've gone mad when you tell them "pot luck" is all about Frenchmen and chickens.
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on 12 May 2017
The book highlights some interesting and amusing derivations but (at the risk of being a grumpy old man) I confess to cringing at the gratuitous and relentless schoolboy-level "humour". Stylistic inelegance (such as "bored of . . . " rather than "bored with . . . ") was also surprising in a book concerned with language. In even a such light-hearted and non-academic book about etymology, I also felt the classical way of quoting Latin or Greek words (e.g. "vox vocis") would have provided more insight regarding the way English words have been derived.
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on 30 November 2017
I've become Mark Forsyth's unofficial PR Manager! I have been trumpeting this quite wonderful book of his ever since I stumbled across it some weeks ago! It is, quite simply, the most engrossing, most entertaining, most educational - and funniest - book I have read in a very long while (being, somewhat as the author, given to gravitas at the best of times and, hence, rarely choosing anything humourous!!). Being a writer and a Philologist myself, I assumed it would be yet another lexicon - but oh, how mistaken I was! I have laughed my way through every page - and picked up and retained several etymologies along the way with which to bore all my confreres/consoeurs - indeed, Mark's opening page of self-description might have been written for me! Thank you SO much for enlivening my life with this fabulous book. For any prospective reader out there with the slightest interest in the usage of words, I cannot recommend this little jewel highly enough. It'll be not just an ideal stocking filler but a treasure, lighting up your library like the Pole Star!
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on 21 August 2017
I am so miffed that my memory is unable to keep these words in my poor old brain, this, along with his others is an hilarious jaunt through the English language and much deserved of higher recognition than to be sold off cheap in the Word stores.
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VINE VOICEon 17 April 2015
In another review I said that the Elements of Eloquence was quite possibly the best book about the English language I had read this year. I added the caveat that I was yet to read The Etymologicon. The predictive caveat now seems wholly justified as The Etymologicon is indeed the best book about the English language I have read this year.

Reading it is like having the most interesting conversation you can imagine with one of the elves from the QI team (and in fact I think some of the content of the BBC show has been determined from reading this book). The origin of words, phrases and place names is something that has always fascinated me and so this book was a treat at every turn of the page.

Mark Forsyth is not only a learned etymologist he is also in possession of a very droll sense of humour and had this book been written by someone else it might not have been the amusing creation it is. Forsyth could perhaps make the driest of subjects fascinating, but given that I already possess a predilection for English the comic turns of his circular stroll through the concealed connections of the language simply represent icing on a cake already bursting with the tastiest of ingredients.

I am not going to waffle on about all the word origins he explains but if I remember half of what was in the book I will have improved my knowledge significantly in the act of reading The Etymologicon and have ammunition aplenty when I think a conversation may warrant a ‘did you know…’ In fact I have already regaled my friends with tales of the origins of buffs, slaves, soldiers, cheques, and the company name Shell by way of an endorsement of Forsyth’s books.

Of all the books I may have recommended this year, I think this is my recommendation of the year. I was given The Horologicon which will complete the ‘trilogy’ and I’ll let you know whether it is as good as the other two some time in the new year. I also received four Philip K Dick books and so as expected my bookshelves are positively bowing under the weight of all the reading I have to look forward to.
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on 17 September 2015
If there are other books quite like this, I have never come across them. In each short chapter, the author chooses a word (or a root) and basically runs with it, teasing out all the meanings and connections, before cleverly setting up the next chapter. There is a huge amount of information in here, not just about the words themselves, but about history and linguistic theory, although the tone is always light. I absolutely loved it and for years to come, I will be dipping into my ebook in boring places such as airports.
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on 4 December 2016
I bought this book as I love words, and the origins of words. What I didn't expect was to be charmed & amused, enlightened and surprised all in one small book. Brilliantly written, it could have been a dry as dust subject but the author writes with wit as well as learning. Bought as a go-to now and then book, devoured it in one sitting. Brilliant - and I am able to bore family & friends with lots of 'did you know's!
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on 15 May 2017
I can't fault anything about this book, Mark Forsyth delivers a fascinating and often very funny insight to our language. I really enjoyed it. I found the beginning most entertaining, it caused me to laugh out loud and bore my husband by reading to him many times. I recommended it to my dad, who as a polyglot, is fascinated by links he sees in seemingly unconnected languages (for example the word for chair in Welsh and Piemontes). I will be looking out for other books by Mark Forsyth from now on.
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on 7 July 2014
Fascinating, with great anecdotes and some delicious turns of phrase.
Mark packs in a huge amount of etymology that is so intriguing and often so witty that you'll constantly find yourself trying to memorise the facts so you can tell other people.
The chapters are frequently dense, packing in so many definitions in ever expanding chains of words that it can be a dizzying experience as you try to take in the rush of knowledge.
Don't worry though, it's written accessibly with a big dose of humour stirred in.

There are some genuine lightbulb moments where you can see the interplay of influences between words, thought and culture and how each continuously shapes the others.

It's definitely a book for dipping into. I read it cover to cover and ended up feeling that while the style was engaging, it was a bit of a flat experience - with each chapter written with the same pacing, just covering different words and adding more wit. This makes it ideal for opening at random, or leaving in the toilet for your guests to enjoy.
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