on 27 October 2012
After really enjoying 'The Etymologicon' last year, I had great expectations of Mark Forsyth's new book and thankfully it didn't disappoint. 'The Horologicon' is the same but different: crucially, the dry, clever wit present in the previous book is still there and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the new one is also about words. However, it's the nature of these words that marks the book out as being different, and even more worthwhile, than the first. Whereas The Etymologicon dealt with everyday words and phrases - a much travelled path in the world of books although never previously with such an entertaining guide - 'The Horologicon' is all about forgotten words, ones with their own peculiar and distinct meaning and flavour. To make the trip through this language that time forgot as enjoyable as possible, the author sets up his tour brilliantly by following day in the life of you, me and he himself. What felt like everyday commonplace is made all the richer for it. I only hope I'm not guilty of 'ultracrepidarianism'! But you can be the judge of that.
First of all, I have to admit that I went against the author's recommendation and read this book from cover to cover; alas, at least so far, I have not suffered from any ill-effects. A warning to any prospective readers though: while reading this, what Mark Forsyth calls a serious "reference work", I was rather prone to reading out random passages to my unsuspecting husband who had no choice but to listen. Please bear that in mind before you decide to buy the book.
As the front cover tells us, this is "A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language", starting at 6 a.m. and ending at midnight. Each chapter, comprising one hour, deals with one major activity particular to that time of day, such as Waking and Washing, Dressing and Breakfast, and Commute. In his preambulation, the author hopes that this book will be used as a reverse dictionary: rather than asking "What does xyz mean?", he encourages the reader to ask "What's the word?" for a particular activity, then check the time and find the answer in this handy reference book, such as: "I really don't feel like going in to work today, I have to call up my boss to feign sickness", for which the word is egrote. The fact that my laptop's inbuilt spellchecker has just flagged it up just shows you how forgotten and obscure these words have (unfortunately) become. So your boss will not have the faintest idea that what you're really doing is whindling because you're suffering from a hum durgeon. The author's whimsical and easy-going conversational style of writing rather masks his eloquence and hard work that has obviously gone into this book, and it is easy to tell that it is a true labour of love, peppered as it is with such lovely alliterations such as herbaceous hedonism and linguistic lowlands. It made me chuckle and even laugh out loud on numerous occasions because I could transfer what I read so easily to myself or recognise it in my husband. It is obvious that Mark Forsyth possesses a rather impish sense of mischief which is most easily recognisable when he talks about the cleverly disguised insults that could be hurled at any person of disfavour and without them being any the wiser; these, along with some fascinating etymological snippets, are some of the best bits in my opinion. This is an absolute treasure trove of obscure and forgotten words that deserve to be brought back to light and into the current dictionaries. I say we start a campaign to resurrect a word from each chapter; wouldn't that be a linguistic achievement to find that bellibone has now had its first documented use since 1586? Who's with me?
I love words - but I got a bit bored of this book. Forsyth has worked his way through all kinds of obscure dictionaries, found lots (and lots) of forgotten words and tied them together into a narrative based around the hours of the day.
Here's an example from his section on looking in the mirror while in the bathroom in the morning:
"But enough of your furuncles. Let us just say that you are erumpent, which is a jolly- sounding way of saying spotty (nicer than papuliferous and infinitely more pleasant than petechial, a word that Doctor Johnson defined as `pestilentially-spotted')".
Um, yes, but 250 pages of this started to pall rather quickly.
So... maybe a stocking filler for the etymologist in your life... maybe?
I adored The Etymologicon (the Radio 4 CD version was so gripping I found myself sitting in the car and refusing to get out until I'd heard to the end of the current item), but for me this is a weak successor.
It's a compendium of little known words presented as for use at different times of day. So breakfast words for the morning, nightclub words for the evening. So you can laugh about how telling a modern woman she's a 'bellibone' probably won't please her as it would her ancestors, but that's pretty much it.
That's not to say there aren't some fabulous Etymologicon style snippets in here, and some items really are laugh out loud, but it's just a bit charmless compared to it's earlier partner.
I'll also admit I was quite peeved by the author's confession (on page 248) that he made up one of the words in the book, but won't say which one. It could be the one you shared with people around you, the one you most remembered, the one that made you laugh. Who knows? But not saying which one was the lie renders every word in the book a possible fiction, so why bother reading it?
Mark Forsyth began his ascent to fame with the Etymologicon, in which he explored the history of words, not in anything so dull as alphabetic order but following a circular route from 'a turn up for the books' and letting each subject lead him to the next.
In The Horologicon, he turns his attention to words that have been lost from the English language and does so by following a person's day, finding him lying abed just before dawn worrying (uhtceare) and leaving him many hours later in his 'consopiation', or lying down ready for sleep. The chances of reviving any of his words seem slim, even when it is very useful to have a single word to cover what needs a whole phrase in modern English, but Forsyth's wit is such that the journey itself is worth the cab fare. Some words are a little dubious -- uhtceare appears only once in Anglo-Saxon texts so was clearly not in widespread use-- but who cares when it's such a joy to roll in your mouth. Did you sleep well? Yes, until 4am when I had a bout of uhtceare. Try telling that one to your doctor.
I haven't read anything else by Mark Forsyth and wasn't sure what to expect. Certainly wasn't expecting this wonderful mix of fun and fact. Full credit has to go to Forsyth if only for the amount of work that went into researching The Horologicon. Firstly; this isn't a book you'd necessarily want to sit down and read from cover to cover in one sitting. The Horologicon is more a book you dip in and out off for fun, or inspiration, unless you're a English language buff or a quiz master. Written in the form of a book of hours, the chapters are broken up into time slices:-
Chapter 1:- 6 am - Dawn
Chapter 2: 7 am - Waking and Washing
Continuing through until Midnight.
Each time slice contains a selection of extraordinary words relative to their own particular time of day. You might not think you'll ever use words like these but; once you've read the book I'll bet you're soon dropping them into the conversation. It's impossible not to do it once you've become "infected". My favourite is "quidnunc" - you'll have to read the book. I know a great many of them!.
Of course, The Horologican isn't simply a list of words or the usual Dictionary. Each word is accompanied by a wealth of information explaining it's origin, type, history and, even more importantly, where it should sit in a sentence so you sound as though you know what you're talking about!.
If you're writing a speech, hosting a quiz, interested in the English language or just want a laugh then you'll get a great deal of fun out of The Horologicon.
on 9 November 2012
English is a funny old language. I recently found out, for instance, that a snollygoster is the technical term for a dishonest politician and that the 'I before E except after C' rule is (most of the time) utterly untrue. These are the delightfully obscure musings of the 'Inky Fool' blogger, Mark Forsyth, whose latest book reveals the undeservedly defunct words of the English language. In his quest to rewrite the reference book of our everyday vocabulary, Mr Forsyth unearths hum durgeons (imaginary illnesses), ergophobia (the morbid fear of returning to work) and a whole dictionary dedicated to Benjamin Franklin's terms for drunkenness.
Equally enchanting as last year's Etymologicon but with a smidgen more humour, the book certainly made a welcome companion to my daily commute. A celebration of the brilliantly bizarre English language - ale-knights, bumbershoots and all!
Witty and charming with a touch of English pedantry. Highly recommended.
on 8 November 2012
The Horologicon is the new book from Mark Forsyth, whose 'Etymologicon' everyone I knew seemed to be reading after it was on Radio 4 last year.
In this book Forsyth has trawled the depths of the English language to find all sorts of brilliantly obscure and crazy words for everyday things. Some of the best ones, I think, are on food and drink - 'Ale passion' (a hangover, which makes it sound much more enjoyable!), 'Aristology' (the study of breakfast) and 'Snecklifter' (someone hangs around pubs waiting to be bought a drink) were real favourites of mine! There's hundreds more though and I defy anyone who reads the book not to be enchanted and be tempted to bring up some of the them in conversation after they've finished it. Of course, talk about it for too long though and you might be accused of being an 'Ultracrepidarian' - someone who talks a lot without knowing very much the subject!!
Highly recommended for anyone fascinated by the richness and history of the English language - and who likes a laugh!
For a logophile like myself this is the dream of a book. Loving words is a passion of this reviewer and there are so few books that celebrate the deliciousness of the arcane words Mark Forsyth has unearthed for this volume.
Al books are made up of words that is their definition but this clever author has set himself the task of finding a series of obscure words ~ and some so very obscure you will fail to find them in any dictionary, many of them dialectically obscure ~ to take him through a single day from before rising to after going back to bed taking in the early morning ablutions (he avoids obscene words they can be found elsewhere) through the chaos of commuting, the boredom and tedium of the working day ~(though a book like this would certainly help while away those hours), the surreal chore of supermarket shopping, stopping off at the pub on the way home and finally returning home after a dalliance or two and seeking the comfort of the bed so rudely abandoned earlier that day.
From uhtceare, that restless first feeling upon waking and still trying to shake off the final dream streams until an attack of apodysophilia, feverish desire to disrobe (although this can occur at almost any time of the day for sure)as you approach the bed chamber and fall into a well deserved slumber, exhausted by all the vocabulary you have assumed this day, and gone beyond that first myoclonic jerk i.e. the stumble over Dreamland's doorstep, you have passed a day with Mr Forsyth through humorous nostalgia at many of the slang terms for daily activities and lost, but essential,language that serves you well in the more formal functions of the day.
This volume is an absolute delight for any reader who loves words, enjoys dictionaries, thesauruses and is slave to etymology and word puzzles. This really should end up in a great number of Christmas stockings
on 24 November 2012
Having bought the previous outing of the Inky Fool, "The Etymologicon" I was eagerly anticipating this book of hours.... and words appropriate for those hours. This compartmentalisation makes the book better for dipping into without entrapment, the previous work starts and ends with the same word and pulls one in like a cyclical saga.
NO DISAPPOINTMENTS! I love it. I enjoy it. I read and re-read it without regret.
Some words are familiar; from usage and from other contexts: here is a spoiler, "Mundungus" - a term for rank and rancid tobacco, or rank and rancid magicians equally.
You either find words fascinating or you don't... if you do, then this is a book for you, a "well, whaddya know" provocation that will educate and entertain.
I had the previous work in print AND as an audiobook (Thank'ee master Vine!) and I suspect that this book also will be best accessed via the printed word.
I'll bet Fry's Qi Elves have reserved their copy !....
Treat yourself and get one too.
And if you are cursing me for not being explicit about the composition of this work....
The Horologicon takes the various hours and intermissions of the day, examining the possibilities of each as they may be related through the use of obsolescent and obscure words, thus expanding ones vocabulary without possibly increasing ones armoury of employable English. So There, and Yah Booh. ;-)