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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 December 2015
Just don't. It would be unfair & incorrect to suggest that Michael Quinion invented the modern genre of books about words, but he certainly has done a lot to popularise it. This isn't utterly awful, but it's certainly the worst I've come across. The author spends a lot of time trying to be clever, but mostly ends up being too clever by half. He might know something about words, but his command of language is poor. He might know something about the history of words, but his knowledge of history is decidedly shaky. He tries to be amusing, but it's mostly forced & contrived as well as, too often, being condescending, patronising, and sometimes downright sneering.

I'm no fan of Michael Jackson (quite the opposite), but describing him as "of indeterminate tan" is not remotely funny & simply tasteless. The grave goods of a tribe of Neolithic people are labelled "tedious", and as for what he has to say about poets... "Wrote X and not much else, thank god!" is fairly typical. So, not much of a fan of poetry then, Mr Author? The cock & bull story he comes up with for the origin of "swing a cat" seems to be made up to allow him to shoe-in (not shoo-in, Mr Author; "shoe", as in "shoe-horn") a bunch of supposed archery terms (Luttrell psalter, Mr Author - no "point blank" there). I'm well aware that the popular explanation that it comes from the naval cat-o-nine tails is probably untrue (the earliest references have nothing to do with the Navy), but I'm also a philologist, amateur historian, re-enactor and longbowman. I've never heard the cobblers you came up with & it also sounds physically implausible.

Did you invent a cod-etymology as a convenient link (another weakness in the book - the oft-contrived attempt to link one section to the next; it just makes things messy & un-coherent)? That would be rank hypocrisy from someone who takes pleasure in deriding the (rightly deridable) Ship High In Transit (except your version is Store...) and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (never trust an acronym if the word is older than the 20thC!). There is the occasional gem, such as the passage about the significance of "Nazi", but this is mostly not very good.

If you want a reasonable explanation of where "swing a cat" comes from, google it & pick up Michael Quinion's version. It's rather better worded than the one here. And if you want a book about words... Pick up something by Michael Quinion. This bloke isn't worth the money,
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on 6 December 2014
I have never felt the need to review a book, this is my first time, but I felt I had to for this book! I love it! I'm not sure I've ever read a book that I felt I couldn't put down, but after spending the whole day reading it, then reading almost every part again out loud to my partner, I've decided to take a a break to write this review!

I personally love the style, the way each subject interconnects with the next, it suits me very well. Even if there are no sources or references, I'm not reading it for research, I'm reading it for pleasure, and for that function it does not disappoint.

I would certainly recommend this book. I'm now going to look for other books by this author, and order a copy for my Dad for Christmas.
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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 27 May 2012
I got this on Kindle, but instead of sitting down to read it sequentially, I've found myself dipping into it on my phone in unlikely places, or reading it while commuting. It's fun, it's light, and it is probably pretty good at refreshing the background vocabulary, not to mention the rusty bits of Latin.

There are plenty of reviews describing this book, so I'll limit mine. I particularly like the meandering structure, the segue from one derivation to another, as well as the individual snippets themselves. I find the wit pleasing and never irritating. My favourite derivation may be the sausage poison (botox - ha!) or the fact that black is white (not really, obviously, but I'm paraphrasing ad absurdum rather than letting the cat out of the bag - that's right, you can look them up here). Or maybe my favourite's the one I last read.

I don't think this is a book I'd sit down with when I'm in the mood for a "proper read". It's not a good satisfying story, repository of information, compelling argument, strong opinion, or anything else I might look for in a book. It's more of a canape than a meal, fine on the appropriate occasions, a bit too light when you're hungry. But it's great for a diversion, and if the author comes up with something else in a similar vein, I'll definitely be buying it. Now, just count the number of uncertain and mixed phrases and metaphors here!
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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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 May 2012
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )|Verified Purchase
I have the book and the CDs. The book is good but the CDs are brilliant. The voice brings it to life and makes it much funnier than I managed when trying to read the book aloud to my kids. To give you an idea, his reading style has a similar subtle humour to Martin Jarvis reading the William books.

I suspect most people on this page have an interest in words but not so much interest that they want to read something dry, academic or detailed. This book is the opposite. Each section is cleverly crafted around amusing stories, amusingly told, with dozens of spicy word-origins thrown in. He also has a talent for picking the most interesting words that have the most interesting origins. I will never forget the origin of the word derrick, or guillotine, nor cease to feel a teeny bit smug that I know the truth about the oft-cited Thomas Crapper.
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on 17 August 2017
Quite funny and informative at the same time. Forsyth is a self-declared pedant and that makes it necessary for me to dip in and out in order to avoid getting too much pedantry in one go.
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on 29 June 2017
Excellent. Fascinating content and well presented in short sections which allow for an easy read and fine to pick up and put down without losing track. Very accessible and enjoyable read - very recommended
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