Top critical review
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on 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,