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1. Dictionary of Word Origins: The
2. Morris Dictionary of Word and
3. Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins
4. Word Origins
5. Dictionary of Word Origins: A
6. Word Origins And How We Know Them:
7. The Facts on File Encyclopedia
8. Word Origins And How We Know Them
9. Space Between Words: The Origins
10. The Origins of English Words:
11. A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi": The
12. Medical Meanings: A Glossary of
13. Word Origins: and Their Romantic
14. March Hares and Monkeys' Uncles:
15. Thereby Hangs A Tale - Stories
16. Oxford School Dictionary of Word
17. The Insect That Stole Butter:
18. Where Words Come From: A Dictionary
19. The Word Origin 2011 Day-to-Day
20. The First Word: The Search for

1. Dictionary of Word Origins: The Histories of Over 8, 000 Words Explained
by John Ayto
Paperback: 592 Pages (2001-09-03)
list price: US$22.70
Isbn: 074755448X
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
The average English speaker knows 50,000 words in contemporary use - 25 more words than there are stars in the night sky visible to the naked eye. Yet stripped down to its origins, this apparently huge vocabulary is in reality a much smaller number of words from Latin, French and the Germanic languages. It is estimated that every year, 800 neologisms are added to the English language: acronyms - 'yuppie', blended words - 'motel', and those taken from foreign languages - 'savoir-faire'. The Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins provides a concise history of over 8,000 of the most commonly used words. The range of information spans from derivations as simple as 'a' and 'one' from 'an', to historical relations between words which would be obscure to all but the most lexically-minded. For instance 'vice' with its several uses in English - a wickedness, a holding tool - is derived via Old French from two separate Latin words: 'vitium' (defect, offence), and 'vitis' (vine) which gave 'viticulture'. The Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins demonstrates how the diverse influences on English have given rise to some unlikely but fascinating lexical relations.'Bishop' had no ecclesiastical origins, but was in fact derived from the Greek 'episkopos', meaning 'overseer', and shares origins with 'spy'. In strict etymological terms, a 'dairy' should employ a female kneader of bread. Laid out in an A-Z format with detailed cross references, written in a style that is both authoritative and accessible, the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins is a valuable historical guide to the English language.Amazon.com Review
Learn about the hidden and often surprising historiesof and connections between English words and their non-Englishancestors. Perhaps the best inexpensive etymological dictionaryavailable today. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (16)

5-0 out of 5 stars Dictionary of Word Orgins
I was informed about this book by a college professor who claims it to be one of the best....
I agree, it is a plethora of information!

4-0 out of 5 stars I WAS IMPRESSED
I was so impressed with the reviews of the other owners of this book. That I have decided to buy it RIGHT NOW, SIGHT UNSEEN. I will get back to you and add comments when I have finished it, but keep in mind, while I am not a LINGUIST by profession, I have my own field of expertise which involves the hieroglyphic qualities of the alphabet, that is right, the alphabet has been proven by me to be PICTORAL. Stephen Kellogg Brooks, check me out on Amazon.

Well, now I am back, and I also love this book. It will be put in a very noticeable place on my shelf, above my computer. However, I would like to see the new version when it comes out. I am hoping that it will be upgraded to show some of my discoveries. Let's take a peek at the word SHOVEL, just to show you what I mean. SHOVEL is a part of my TOOL COLLECTION. Notice that HOLE is in this root. Notice that HOE is in this root. Notice that OVAL is in this root, although it is spelled ovel. Notice that the L is also a picture of a hoe. So, what am I saying? Well, I am saying that SHOVEL was used to invent the words OVAL, SHOVE, HOLE and HOE. I am also saying that there are numberous letters which are PICTORAL, this includes hoe (L). You might want to go to www.lulu.com/content/749397 and enjoy the show. Getting back to this great book, I think it is definitely a collector's item.

5-0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!
This is a wonderful book! It is indispensable to students or anyone who reads books that have been written in the past, or for those with a curious nature.

The dictionary is in alphabetical order with stories of how each word came into the English language and has evolved over time.

For example:

Alcohol - Originally, alcohol was a powder, not a liquid. The word comes from Arabic al-kuhul, literally `the kohl'--that is, powdered antimony used as a cosmetic for darkening the eyelids. This was borrowed into English via French or Medieval Latin, and retained this `powder' meaning for some centuries (for instance, `They put between the eyelids and the eye a certain black powder made of a mineral brought from the kingdom of Fez, and called Alcohol,' George Sandys, Travels 1615). But a change was rapidly taking place: from specifically `antimony,' alcohol came to mean any substance obtained by sublimation, and hence `quintessence.' Alcohol of wine was thus the `quintessence of wine,' produced by distillation or rectification, and by the middle of the 18th century alcohol was being used on its own for the intoxicating ingredient in strong liquor. The more precise chemical definition (a compound with a hydroxyl group bound to a hydrocarbon group) developed in the 19th century.

4-0 out of 5 stars If the OED seems to obtuse for you...
...Then this is the book you want. Outside of the Oxford English Dictionary, it's the best (and least expensive) etymological reference I've come across, even better than The Oxford Dictioary of Word Histories, published by Oxford University Press.

Here's an example of a terrific entry:

PREY Prey comes via Old French prei from Latin praeda 'booty' (from which was derived the word paredari 'plunder', source of English depradation and predatory). This was a contraction of an earlier praeheda, a noun formed with the prefix prae-'before' from the same base (*hed- 'saize', source also of English get) as produced the verb praehendere 'seize'. This has been a rich source of English vocabulary, contributing through different channels such a varied assortment as prehensile, prison, and prize 'something seized in war', not to mention prefixed forms like apprehend, comprehend, comprise, impgregnable, reprehensible, reprieve, and surprise. It is also the ancestor of French prendre 'take'.

Here's the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories entry for the same word:

PREY [Middle English] Early noun use included the sense 'plunder taken in war' (=that which is 'seized'); it comes from Old French preie, from Latin praeda 'boot'. The verb is from Old French preir, based on Latin praedari 'seize as plunder', from praeda. The verbal phrase prey upon is found from early times.

Both are complete entries, but one is obviously more complete than the other.

5-0 out of 5 stars Great For Word-Clearing
Since buying this book I use it continually to get a real conceptual understanding. Its derivations are vastly better than most dictionaries and written in simple English with almost no symbols.

Yesterday I used it to clear the derivation of "manifest" as in "manifestation of the misunderstood word" and the room brightened up. Some other really good derivations were "mandarin" and "daughter".

Recommend it thoroughly as a study and word-clearing tool.

Simon ... Read more

2. Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins
by William Morris
 Hardcover: 688 Pages (1988-04-27)
list price: US$38.00
Isbn: 006015862X
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description

The first Edition of the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins detailed the fascinating and little known stories behind thousands of words and phrases that we use every day.In this new edition, William and Mary Morris update and expand their classic work to keep pace with our ever changing language.

New entries include:

  • New trends--crack, glitch, greenmail, Harrier attack airplanes

  • Foreign terms--falafel, geisha, jihad, paparazzi

  • People--batman, dead end kid, Dutch uncle, hatchet man, Young Turks

  • Given names--Chester, Edith, Jennifer and others

  • Food--Adam and Eve on a raft, alligator pear, grapefruit, Harriet Lane

  • Sports--box score, cheese champions, full court press

  • and many more

Throughout the Morris's present the histories of intriguing expressions in an eminently entertaining and readable fashion.Amazon.com Review
Anyone interested in the English language will be fascinatedby -- and then obsessed with -- this dictionary that reads like an erudite gossipcolumn for the city of words. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (12)

4-0 out of 5 stars How words and phrases become common useage
I've often wondered about the origins of some common words and phrases and the dictionary isn't sufficient for that purpose.The Morris volume that I purchased is right on target and a satisfactory source for most of our useage

5-0 out of 5 stars A MUST HAVE BOOK!
A great informational book. Knowing where all the expressions we say came from. It is so much fun to read and start using sayings that you have never used before, and watch peoples faces look at you funny. :)

4-0 out of 5 stars very good
this book not only does a very good job of giving the origins of many common (And lots of uncommon) words and phrases, put does it in a very entertaining way. The author has a great sense of humor and it comes across through his explanations.

5-0 out of 5 stars Entertainment value that sticks with you through the years
I owned an earlier edition of this book and lost track of it some 30 years ago. I've been haunting bookstores for it ever since, but (duh) it only just occurred to me to search Amazon. Others are right, it's really not a reference book. It is simply an endlessly entertaining trove of interesting trivia about the source of our idioms.

5-0 out of 5 stars Excellent reference for phrase origins
Just a short comment: I own several reference books on phrase etymology. This is the best of the bunch. ... Read more

3. Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins (Oxford Paperback Reference)
by Julia Cresswell
Paperback: 512 Pages (2010-11-01)
list price: US$16.95 -- used & new: US$11.88
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0199547939
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Editorial Review

Product Description
Combining both accessibility and authority, The Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins describes the origins and development of over 3,000 words and phrases in the English language. The book draws on Oxford's unrivalled dictionary research program and language monitoring, and relates the fascinating stories behind many of our most curious terms and expressions in order to offer the reader a much more detailed explanation than can be found in a general English dictionary.

Organized A-Z, the entries include first known use along with examples that illustrate the many faces of the particular word or phrase, from 'handsome' to 'bachelor' and 'cute' to 'baby', from 'pagan' to 'palaver' and 'toff' to 'torpedo'. Also featured are almost 20 special panels that cover expressions common in English but drawn from other languages, such as 'coffee', 'sugar', and 'candy' from Arabic or 'booze', 'brandy', and 'gin' (Dutch).

This absorbing volume is useful for language students and enthusiasts, but also an intriguing read for any person interested in the development of the English language and of language development in general. It also includes an extended introduction on the history of the English language. ... Read more

4. Word Origins
by John Ayto
Paperback: 576 Pages (2008-09-01)
list price: US$16.95 -- used & new: US$11.21
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0713674989
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Editorial Review

Product Description

The average contemporary English speaker knows 50,000 words. Yet stripped down to its origins, this apparently huge vocabulary is in reality much smaller, derived from Latin, French and the Germanic languages. It is estimated that every year, 800 neologisms are added to the English language: acronyms (nimby), blended words (motel), and those taken from foreign languages (savoir-faire). Laid out in an A-Z format with detailed cross references, and written in a style that is both authoritative and accessible, Word Origins is a valuable historical guide to the English language.
... Read more

5. Dictionary of Word Origins: A History of the Words, Expressions and Cliches We Use
by Jordon Almond
Paperback: 286 Pages (2000-10-01)
list price: US$12.95 -- used & new: US$4.40
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0806517131
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (9)

2-0 out of 5 stars Dictionary Of Word Origin
This book is okay but I thought it would be thicker and have more words in it.

5-0 out of 5 stars Good book but the same
This is a good book, BUT don't purchase it as a companion to Why Do We Say It.They are the same book in different covers, even some of the page numbers are the very same.

4-0 out of 5 stars Word Origins Dictionary
A great reference book. Not all sayings are in it, but it includes many of those we use very often. As a reference it comes in handy frequently. Plus, even the author names leads to speculation.

3-0 out of 5 stars Decent resource for writers & coaches
Word derivation is a good resource to have on your bookshelf. It's also a good resource to have in doing self-development work where you are asked to create your own motto or vision statement. It's a good resource for writers and for career counselors.

4-0 out of 5 stars Fun.
A fun read, but looking through Amazon, there may be better books on this subject. ... Read more

6. Word Origins And How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone
by Anatoly Liberman
Paperback: 336 Pages (2009-04-13)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$8.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0195387074
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
Written in a funny, charming, and conversational style, Word Origins is the first book to offer a thorough investigation of the history and the science of etymology, making this little-known field accessible to everyone interested in the history of words.

Anatoly Liberman, an internationally acclaimed etymologist, takes the reader by the hand and explains the many ways that English words can be made, and the many ways in which etymologists try to unearth the origins of words. Every chapter is packed with dozens of examples of proven word histories, used to illustrate the correct ways to trace the origins of words as well as some of the egregiously bad ways to trace them. He not only tells the known origins of hundreds of words, but also shows how their origins were determined. And along the way, the reader is treated to a wealth of fascinating word facts. Did they once have bells in a belfry? No, the original meaning of belfry was siege tower. Are the words isle and island, raven and ravenous, or pan and pantry related etymologically? No, though they look strikingly similar, these words came to English via different routes.

Partly a history, partly a how-to, and completely entertaining, Word Origins invites readers behind the scenes to watch an etymologist at work. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (5)

3-0 out of 5 stars A Juicy Read, with some Minuses
This book makes one realize that there are two kinds of etymologies: the one that tries to explain terms like "hackney" and "jack-o-lantern"; and the one that tries to explain terms like "hand" and "bring". The first makes you search through medieval tomes and books about ancient crafts; the second causes one to delve into ablaut series and next to unpronounceable Proto-Indo-European (PIE) words that look more like formulas (which they partly are). The first yields a number of anecdotal and often amusing stories, the second dry-as-dust formal word derivations. The author, although acknowledging the existence of the second, is clearly much more interested in the first; PIE figures only sporadically in the text and does not even occur in the index.

This approach makes the book a juicy read, especially on "funny" English words; the sections on ablaut series etc. lack the same flourish and are mercifully small. Yet even in the juicy part there are quite a number of promising
paragraphs that lead nowhere. For example, on page 101 we learn that "Cockney" has an interesting origin, but that origin is never revealed.

Much too much to my taste is attributed to sound symbolism (page 212: the b in "to beat" is suggested to be "imitative (echoic)" of the beating action; the argument is that out of 115 synonyms of "beat, strike" about 20 begin with a b) or explained as "baby words" (pig - big - bag for "swollen things"). I think such claims are warranted only when supported by similar phenomena from several non-Indo-European languages. I personally cannot find back any of these sound symbolisms in Hebrew, the only Non-IE language I know well. Latin "capere" (to take), Finnish "kappan" (to seize) and Hebr. "kaf" (hollow hand) may very well be related (and I think they probably are) but I don't hear any sound symbolism in them (page 43). For that matter, Hebr. "khataf" (he grabbed) sounds much more like seizing.

The editing is far from perfect; one problem is that the Old-English/Icelandic letter "thorn" (a p with an upward stick like a b) is often printed as a p (f.e. page 83). In summary, the subtitle "Etymology for Everybody" is fully justified, but it is a limited form of etymology.

4-0 out of 5 stars The book is a good library copy with protective covering and arrived in a timely fashion.
The book is a good library copy with protective covering and arrived in a timely fashion.It's a fascinating book, not quite as readable as other etymology books I have read, but offers good insights into how an etymologist does his or her work.It's a good book to read just before you go to sleep because it's interesting enough to hold your attention, but dry enough to put you to sleep.

4-0 out of 5 stars Discovery rather than Consensus
'Etymos/on' means 'true, real' in Greek, and etymologists endeavor to find the true origin of words.
Right away we are on treacherous ground: one man's truth is another man's folly. Etymology deals with discovery, not with consensus, says Liberman. If you take the etymological explanations offered in standard dictionaries at face value (and look no further when it says "origin unknown"), you don't need this book.
But let's say you come across a word like 'litter' which can have so many different meanings (scattered rubbish; stretcher; a number of young brought forth by a pig, cat, etc.; straw, hay or the like used as bedding for animals or protection for plants) you can't help wondering how this came about. (Hint: it all goes back to Latin 'lectus'=bed).
Some word origins are quite transparent: it is easy to recognize 'day's eye' in 'daisy'. Onomatopoeic words like clap. flap, swish, buzz, etc. require no difficult analysis. But how is the nail on your finger or toe related to the metal object you hit with a hammer?

Thus we find ourselves in the thicket of etymological research before we quite know how we got there.
How the discipline developed, how it waxed and waned through the centuries and in different countries is a fascinating tale in itself.
"Etymology finds its justification in the belief that words are not arbitrary but meaningful combinations of sounds", says the author. After leading us through various decoding efforts - some gratifyingly successful, others disconcertingly inconclusive - he sheds some light on the methods of etymology, and then gives an overview of the Indo-European sound shifts, Grimm's Law, and the nitty-gritty of historical linguistics. But just when we think we are on solid ground again, we are confronted with multiple violations and exceptions to these rules, and certainty once again yields to doubt.

A treasure trove of references in different languages is incorporated in the notes; they reflect the fierce battles that have been going on between scholars and rival factions and are definitely worth reading alongside the text. (Some typos are distracting- Greek nu confused with upsilon, misplaced hyphens - but they don't spoil the fun).
Liberman has tried to "combine entertainment with instruction", and I think he has succeeded admirably with this book. It does not reek of pedantry, yet manages to sneak in a lot of serious knowledge while maintaining a light, conversational tone. When, at the end, the author invites his readers "to leaf through this book again", you know that you will enjoy it even more the second time around.

3-0 out of 5 stars thorough, but a little self gratifying
The author of this book is highly knowledgeable about the origins of words and attuned to the many misconceptions non-etymologists may have about the subject.However, the authors love of word origins seems to impede his ability to discuss them in a clear and concise fashion.So many words are presented in every chapter - even the titles of the chapters consist of too many words - that the reader looses track of the topic in that particular chapter.Thorough, but could be organized (and edited) a bit better.

4-0 out of 5 stars word origins
very interesting to really know the origins of the many words and phrases we use in every day language...I sure have more respect for the phrases being used. ... Read more

7. The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins (Writers Reference)
by Robert Hendrickson
Hardcover: 948 Pages (2008-10-30)
list price: US$95.00 -- used & new: US$76.00
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0816069662
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
More than 15,000 entriesover 2,000 of which are new to this editionprovide information and anecdotes on the origin and development of a wide range of words and phrases, including:

Fellini named the hyperactive photographer in La Dolce Vita Signor Paparazzo, after the Italian slang for mosquito, which lead to the popularity of the term, paparazzi.

Argentina takes its name from the Latin argentum meaning silver. Legend says that llamas grazing on Mount Posi in 1545 uprooted some shrubbery, beneath which was a vein of silver ore.

Conjurer's assistants in the 17th century would eat toads so the magicians could demonstrate their miraculous healing powers. The assistants came to be known as "toad eaters," which became our modern insult, "toady."Amazon.com Review
Seemingly designed for those with laser-focused attention orplenty of time on their hands, the Facts on File Encyclopedia ofWord and Phrase Origins provides days of browsing foretymophiles. More than 9,000 entries, nearly a quarter of them new tothis edition, cover slang, idiom, and commonly used words withinteresting or curious histories. Ranging from a few sentences to halfa page, the entries are consistently entertaining and well-researched,though author Robert Hendrickson acknowledges in his preface that "nogood tale is omitted merely because it isn't true." (He does noteapocrypha when appropriate.) The book pulls few, if any, punches, andnearly everyone will find at least one term or definition offensive;try "Irish beauty" for "a girl with two black eyes," for example. But,for every potentially offensive term, you'll find several hundreddelights, such as "veronica" and "cut off your nose to spite yourface." Though there's a slight trend toward Americanisms, there'splenty of British, Irish, and other varieties of English representedherein as well. While it is a terrifically useful reference work, itis nearly impossible to keep one's eyes from wandering, more so thanwith any other work of its kind. Still, a few extra minutes spent inthe company of good words and good stories makes the Facts on FileEncyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins as pleasurable as it isuseful. --Rob Lightner ... Read more

Customer Reviews (17)

5-0 out of 5 stars An essential book for any word enthusiast or writer
As a writer, I fall into the pits of cliches and over used phrases that not many people understand. Every now and then people will come out with something that sounds really old but makes no sense.

Encyclopedia is ESSENTIAL to any English and word enthusiast as well as writer. This is like an extra dictionary, only more in depth. The price is amazing and the words inside are intriguing. Knowing the origin of words and phrases will enlighten you to why it's used, how it's used, and how it's changed over time. Very interesting, deeply detailed, and a must have!

1-0 out of 5 stars Word facts
Book is too big and many of the origins I believe are incorrect.Will be returning the book

5-0 out of 5 stars An idiom and wordsmith wonderland
...Writer's and teachers's of the English language will love this publication...as well as anyone who has pondered "where did that saying come from?"Or "Why do we say that" It gives an enjoyable and great incite into theslang and idiomswe use daily.

4-0 out of 5 stars The Facts on File encylopedoa Word and Phrase Orgins
Excellent book.My students and I enjoy looking up phrases and words in class

2-0 out of 5 stars Not a good reference tool
This book is interesting if you just want to read through and learn some interesting facts about word origins.It's not been a good resource for me for looking up meanings.

I've tried to use it as I would use a dictionary.When I hear a phrase, I often wonder what it means.Just this morning I wanted to look up "anchor to the wind".I was pretty sure I wouldn't find it.I didn't.I did learn that the "ch" in the middle of the word anchor is confusing, and that it was added in error.That's interesting to know, but not helpful for learning the meaning of a phrase I've heard used.

I can't remember previous examples that I've looked up, but my impression is that most time that I try to look something up, I can't find it.I don't know of a better book to recommend as a reference, but I do know that I've been disappointed with this book for that purpose. ... Read more

8. Word Origins And How We Know Them - Book Club Edition
by Anatoly Liberman
Paperback: 312 Pages (2005)
-- used & new: US$6.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0739463020
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9. Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading (Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture)
by Paul Saenger
Paperback: 504 Pages (2000-01-01)
list price: US$38.95 -- used & new: US$25.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 080474016X
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description

Reading, like any human activity, has a history. Modern reading is a silent and solitary activity. Ancient reading was usually oral, either aloud, in groups, or individually, in a muffled voice. The text format in which thought has been presented to readers has undergone many changes in order to reach the form that the modern Western reader now views as immutable and nearly universal. This book explains how a change in writing—the introduction of word separation—led to the development of silent reading during the period from late antiquity to the fifteenth century.

Over the course of the nine centuries following Rome’s fall, the task of separating the words in continuous written text, which for half a millennium had been a function of the individual reader’s mind and voice, became instead a labor of professional readers and scribes. The separation of words (and thus silent reading) originated in manuscripts copied by Irish scribes in the seventh and eighth centuries but spread to the European continent only in the late tenth century when scholars first attempted to master a newly recovered corpus of technical, philosophical, and scientific classical texts.

Why was word separation so long in coming? The author finds the answer in ancient reading habits with their oral basis, and in the social context where reading and writing took place. The ancient world had no desire to make reading easier and swifter.For various reasons, what modern readers view as advantages—retrieval of reference information, increased ability to read “difficult” texts, greater diffusion of literacy—were not seen as advantages in the ancient world. The notion that a larger portion of the population should be autonomous and self-motivated readers was entirely foreign to the ancient world’s elitist mentality.

The greater part of this book describes in detail how the new format of word separation, in conjunction with silent reading, spread from the British Isles and took gradual hold in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The book concludes with the triumph of silentreading in the scholasticism and devotional practices of the late Middle Ages.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

3-0 out of 5 stars Puffed Out with Air
This book has some interesting things to say about how the practice of silent reading and the practice of putting spaces between written words are mutually reinforcing. Correspondingly, in cultures where reading is primarily reading aloud, written languages tend not to have spaces between words. But most of what the book has to say could have been said in a couple of articles. It is very repetitive and the author has a remarkable ability to use a lot of words to say very little. ... Read more

10. The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots
by Joseph Twadell Shipley
Paperback: 672 Pages (2001-02-15)
list price: US$32.00 -- used & new: US$17.73
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0801867843
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
There are no direct records of the original Indo-European speech.By comparing the vocabularies of its various descendants, however, it is possible to reconstruct the basic Indo-European roots with considerable confidence.In The Origins of English Words, Shipley catalogues these proposed roots and follows the often devious, always fascinating, process by which some of their offshoots have grown.

Anecdotal, eclectic, and always enthusiastic, The Origins of English Words is a diverting expedition beyond linguistics into literature, history, folklore, anthropology, philosophy, and science. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (7)

5-0 out of 5 stars A treasure of a reference book
Although nothing will replace my 20-volume OED as the ultimate reference work for etymological questions, this book comes very close. In one handy volume, it's possible to find lots of language cognates across the Indo-European family and get a real feel for how language can evolve over time and across cultures. Not for everyone but a treasure for word lovers.

5-0 out of 5 stars The Origins of English words
This is just the book I've been looking for. I am interested in the Sanksrit origins of words from a metaphysical point of view, and this is the book I've been looking for.It was suggested to me by the Amazon search network as I hunted around.Highly recommended to anyone interested in sounds, meanings and metaphysics.A book obviously compiled by a master, very very usable (compared to traipsing through columns and columns in the OED, and even then, not finding the root of a word because of sound transformations).

4-0 out of 5 stars very interesting book
a very good foreword, the book of a master in ethimology, the work of a plentylife studyng words origin, a master piece

5-0 out of 5 stars Origins of English Words
Full of interesting information, history, and insights into why and how we speak and write as we do.Excellent reference.

5-0 out of 5 stars A great reference piece
I am a college junior, and I have found no book more helpful in my studies than this one. It is a great reference work that can be used for so many topics and in so many contexts. It is a necessity in my reference collection. The etymlogies of so many roots and words are throroughly explained, and done so with amazing clarity.

Word Ninja ... Read more

11. A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi": The Origin of Foreign Words Used in English
by Chloe Rhodes
Hardcover: 176 Pages (2010-03-04)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$3.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: B003XU7VPG
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
"English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over, and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."
-James D. Nicoll

Organized alphabetically for easy reference, A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi" is an accessible lexicon of foreign words and phrases used in English, containing everything from aficionado (Spanish) to zeitgeist (German). Inside you'll find translations, definitions, origins, and a descriptive timeline of each item's evolution. Entries include:

  • À la carte: from the card or of the menu (French)
  • Fiasco: complete failure (Italian)
  • Dungarees: thick cotton cloth/overalls (Hindi)
  • Diaspora: dispersion (Greek)
  • Smorgasbord: bread and butter (Swedish)
  • Cognoscenti: those who know (Italian)
  • Compos mentis: having mastery of one's mind; with it (Latin)
Attractively packaged with black and white illustrations, this whimsical yet authoritative book is a great gift for any etymologically fascinated individual. Use this book to reacquaint yourself with the English language, and you'll be compos mentis in no time.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (6)

5-0 out of 5 stars The book for word smiths
Quite simply put, this book is essential for word smiths.I received it as a gift and have enjoyed my time reading it, and exercising the little grey cells a la M. Hercule Poirot.I like the mini-history lessons for each word and recommend this book for anyone else who likes reading for enjoyment and wants to delve into a little bit of etymology.

4-0 out of 5 stars Don't be afraid of "Worms"
Words, phrases, certain sayings we use all the time...do you ever wonder where they came from? "A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi" by Chloe Rhodes lets us in on the origins of things we say every day. From A cappella ( in the manner of the choir) to Zeitgeist (spirit of the time), Chic (elegant) to Sarong (covering), any lover of words will love this book. Examples as well as origins are given alphabetically. This would be a great book for any reader, graduate (high school or college), anyone who is crazy about language.

My Mom instilled me with a love of words, and she would have loved this book! No Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware), needed, this is so much fun!

Get this book for yourself, or for anyone whose Raison d'Etre (reason for being) has anything to do with words. You won't regret it!

I received this book from Julie at FSB Associates for review. Thanks!!

4-0 out of 5 stars A sheer delight
A sheer delight.Like many readers, I love words.I love discovering the origins of words and phrases.Here, I discovered that the origin of paparazzi means mosquito.How appropriate is that?Or how we use the term Al Fresco to mean "in the fresh air" but in Italy it's slang for "in prison".

I was familiar with many of these words and phrases, but not how they came into such wide use.This is one of those fun books that you can just pick up on a whim and entertain yourself.It's a fast, easy read if you want to read it in one sitting.But, I see it placed on a shelf or end table for someone to pick up and peruse for an enlightening few minutes.

4-0 out of 5 stars reference for writers and readers
This is a great new reference work that you might just find yourself curling up with as if it were a novel.It explores 'the origin of foreign words used in English', and some of them are pretty amusing.

For example, our term paparazzi referred to the Italian word for mosquito and was related to a Fellini film (how appropriate is that!).And when you say someone has a lot of panache, you probably aren't referring to the feather on their hat, but that is where the word derives from:a plume of feather that exuded flair (French origin).Now we consider panache more of an expression of style (i.e. Johnny Depp has the trademark on panache)!Another interesting word in our literary world is denouement, which originated in the French and referred to 'an untying'.That makes sense, as when we get to the denouement of the book all the complexities usually are unravelled and our understanding is clear.

I enjoyed the different choices of phrases and the accurate explanation of what they originally meant.I always thought Quid Pro Quo meant doing something for free, somewhat mixing it up with Pro Bono.Both of my interpretations were wrong:quid pro quo means something done in exchange for something else (not free).Pro Bono means something done 'for the good' as in a public service.

This is a reference work useful to almost anyone, but I can't help but think a high school or college student might especially benefit from the explanations and fast paced instruction.My only disappointment was that the book doesn't offer pronounciations with the phrases.Most are obvious, but a few really could use a guide on how to correctly pronounce the phrase (thus settling many dinner party disputes).

5-0 out of 5 stars Reading At The Beach: Reviews
I love words. I love learning new words and finding out where they originated. This book is a gold mine for any logophile (lover of words). It has so many words we hear all the time and tells us what it really means and where it came from. There were so many I'd never heard of like:
frottage (rubbing)French
diaspora (scattering)Greek
ersatz (replacement)German

A few I did know were:
kaput (broken)German
faux pas (wrong step)French
moratorium (delay)Latin

Another thing I love is this book. I will be pulling it off my bookshelf quite often, it is a great tool to exercise your brain.

*Thanks to Julie and FSB Associates for this review copy* ... Read more

12. Medical Meanings: A Glossary of Word Origins, Second Edition
by William S. Haubrich
Hardcover: 267 Pages (2003-11-01)
list price: US$33.00 -- used & new: US$13.04
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1930513496
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
More than just a dictionary, Medical Meanings explores the history of medical terms. Written with bracing wit and a refreshing lack of pretense, this new edition has been completely revised and sharpened, and nearly 300 new words and phrases have been added. Whether you are a student, physician, or word connoisseur, a delightful reading experience awaits. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

5-0 out of 5 stars Invaluable!
I initially saw this product on google books when I got curious about why there is both an ileum and an ilium in the human body. As soon as I perused a few pages of it on there, I decided it was a book well worth having! As a medical student, I have had to learn a lot of unfamiliar terms in a very short period of time and I find knowing the origins really helps remember what is what; in particular, it made anatomy a lot easier. This book is the perfect balance between very informative and very readable, with occasional light humour. I would recommend it highly to any medical student or indeed anyone who is just curious as you can happily dip in and out of it, learning something really interesting on almost every page.

5-0 out of 5 stars Great book for etymology
I am one of those people that learns and recalls better if I know the where the word came from and why it is called the way it is called. If you are one of those people, I highly recommend this book. It makes the medical world make a lot more sense.

4-0 out of 5 stars Great book on etymology
Dr Haubrich's book is great! I own the hardcover first edition, and have found it quite useful.There are other older books on medical etymology (usually gathering dust in the stacks of medical libraries) that are much more detailed and have more information, but Dr Haubrich's is the most readable.Sometimes I just pick up this book and browse (can't do that with the other books!).All in all, I would highly recommend this book to everyone interested in this subject.

5-0 out of 5 stars William Safire, beware!
Dr. Haubrich's glossary is a clearly a labor of love as well as expertly researched tome of medical meanings. For those interested in etymology, his book is as much as a therapeutic massage to the intellect as Barnette'sbook (Ladyfingers & Nun's Tummies) is a sensual, cerebral tweeking ofthe palate. I stumbled across an advertisement for the book in a medicaljournal. Having spent a few months researching medical word origins, I gaveup after reading this delightful book. It has no past (or future)competition. The advertisment was meant for physicians, but I believe thata much wider audience might well enjoy his meticulous research and mutedhumor. I enjoyed his mini-essay on the origin of the "Westernblot", the tables explaining number and color origins, his whimsicalasides on otherwise obscure (and pretentious) medical terminologies. I paidfull price, and I would advocate for an amazon.com discount, aswell as a pairing of the book with other more popular books on wordorigins. I would hope that the author plans a sequel, paperback editionand/or periodic updates to this delicious "word salad" of medicaletymology! If William Safire uses this book for his column, he must giveDr. Haubrich proper attribution.He deserves it. ... Read more

13. Word Origins: and Their Romantic Stories
by Wilfred Funk
Hardcover: 432 Pages (1992-08-11)
list price: US$11.99 -- used & new: US$19.75
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0517265745
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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From a highly respected name in reference literature, an easy-to-access, dependable sourcebook on the origin and development of thousands of words, each word has been thoroughly checked by ranking linguists and the information is presented in a manner as entertaining as fiction,An Outlet bestseller in previous editions.432 pages.6 X 9. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (9)

5-0 out of 5 stars Words are fascinating!
By Edward G. Schultz, author of "Morgan's Mission", "Christmas Stories For Adults" and "Poems For Those Who Don't Like Poetry".
Books about words fascinate me and Mr. Funk has arranged them so as to be easy to correlate. Almost every time I pick up this book, I find a new word origination that I had wondered about. Of course, as a writer, it also helps me to use better terminology and provides synonyms that I might have not reconized. Although there are many books on the origination of words, this one is unique in the manner of correlation of the subjects.

4-0 out of 5 stars Fun, trivial and a great book to have if your being interrupted frequently.
Some edition of Word Origins has been around for nearly 60 continuous years. Wilfred Funk, who in every way perhaps best represents the archetypal American wordsmith, complied and interesting but not exhaustive (how could it be?) volume of words and their anecdotal genesis.
Word Origins is a fun book, and if you're the trivial type, or aspire to be, you would be well served by reading a few pages a night.
I wouldn't call it "gripping," but if you need something to read that can be set aside and easily returned to, this is the book to have.
Great fun and much appreciated.

4-0 out of 5 stars Great find!
This book is a great addition to any home looking for fun enlightenment. Purchased as a learning tool it doubles in our home as "fun reading". Two birds with one stone (so to speak) We really enjoy it!

5-0 out of 5 stars read yourself sober
We know that Tom and Jerry is the name of this cat-chase-mouse classic cartoon. How about it being the name of an alcohol drink? And prior to this what is it? This informative and even more interesting etymological "beechstaff" will freshen you up with the histories of the most common and familiar words you can imagine. Pick up, flip open, be surprised and seduced, for there is an aphrodisiac love apple in it--more commonly known to us as the tomato.

5-0 out of 5 stars A great basic word etymology for the non-linguist.
I stumbled upon this jewel at the local Rancho Bernardo library.My high school english teacher in India, Mr. F. X. Paul, owned a tattered copy and used to read to us aloud a page or two in hisgrammar class.It helped relieve our boredom brought upon by trying to memorize grammar rules and sentence parsing.

Funk gives you a non-technical discourse on word etymologies.Grouped by categories,and sorted alphabetically, common english words and their history is explained.The write-up on individual words is very interesting and makes for a superb read.I was intrigued bythe history and usage of words like barrister and pettition.

For a non-linguist like myself this book is a treasure trove of delight.Excellent resource.

... Read more

14. March Hares and Monkeys' Uncles: Origins of the Words and Phrases We Use Every Day
by Harry Oliver
Hardcover: 258 Pages (2005-09-01)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$6.67
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1843581523
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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The origins of hundreds of common words and phrases are explained in this journey through the richest, most fascinating regions of the English language.

Why is a March hare mad? Why do we sometimes call ourselves a monkey’s uncle? What are people really doing when they go and see a man about a dog? Who was the Real McCoy? And what is the original meaning of flying by the seat of your pants? While we might choose our words carefully, we rarely think about the origins of the many phrases, place names, and expressions we use every day. Yet, behind these words lie marvelous stories, steeped in the weird and wonderful traditions of everyday life. So if it’s all Greek to you, have a gander at this engrossing tome. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

5-0 out of 5 stars Great Book
I am American & my wife is British & is always saying things I dont understand so this book helps me with finding out what she is talking about as it gives the meaning of phrases she uses

5-0 out of 5 stars A 'must' for any 'word origins' fan who loves to get at the root of the English language
MARCH HARES AND MONKEYS' UNCLES: ORIGINS OF THE WORDS AND PHRASES WE USE EVERY DAY is a 'must' for any 'word origins' fan who loves to get at the root of the English language. Some definitions like 'blarney' or 'limey' may already be well known by avid word fans; others such as 'in the doldrums' are less covered elsewhere and certain to enlighten. From place names to common expressions, the definitions are arranged by topic for easy and fun browsing.

Diane C. Donovan
California Bookwatch

2-0 out of 5 stars Not Very Informative or Entertaining
Oliver belives that fascinating stories lie behind many terms and phrases in our language; his objectives are to inform and entertain with this material.

The material is grouped by topic - eg. Food and Drink, Military, Sports and Games, Law and (dis)Order, Religion, etc.Some examples follow.

"Caesar's Salad" - not named after the Roman leader, but a 1924 innovation by Chef Caesar in an Italian Restaurant in Tijuana.

"Foot the Bill" - originally a 15th century term meaning to add up all the components and total them at the foot (bottom) of a bill.

"Boycott" - came from people agreeing to abstain from contact with a very disliked Captain Boycott during the late 19th century while land reform was underway.

Unfortunately, overall Oliver failed to achieve his objectives.The first because, seemingly more often than not, he was unable to explain a phrase or term's origin; as a result, the interestingness of the material also suffered. ... Read more

15. Thereby Hangs A Tale - Stories Of Curious Word Origins
by Charles Earle Funk
Hardcover: 320 Pages (2008-11-04)
list price: US$41.95 -- used & new: US$37.75
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1443731501
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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THEREBY HANGS A TALE- Stories of Curious Word Origins by Charles Earle Funk. PREFACE: THIS book is the outcome of a collection of material that has been slowly accumulating over the past thirty years or so, since the time when, under the guidance of the late Dr. Frank H. Vizetelly, I began to work as his associate in the editorial department of the Funk Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary. The ancestry of most of the words that we now use glibly or find in books or other cur rent literature, is prosaic. We can trace their lines of descent back to Old English, or Old French, or Latin, or Greek, or other ancient source, but beyond the bare bones supplied by etymologists, which indicate those sources, and the steps by which they became English words, the dictionaries tell us little f or there is little more that can be told. The ancient Roman or Greek, say, who may have been the first to use a word that has strayed on to us, perhaps could have told the story of its origin. It may have been picturesque, based upon some historic episode, like the word anecdote, it may have come from a tale in some older language, for the languages that we consider ancient were themselves based upon still more ancient sources, but that story, if any, cannot now be determined. Thus what we know about the origins of the great majority of the words In our present language can be found in an unabridged dictionary or in a work dealing with etymologies, such as that compiled by W. W. Skeat about seventy years ago, or the one more recently prepared by Ernest Weekley. But there are in our current language a number of fairly common words some old, some new which were born, or grew, or ac quired their meanings in an unusual manner. They came, as our language has, from all sources sources of which the dictionaries, for lack of space, can rarely supply more than a clue. These are the tales that I have been collecting and which are offered here. A number of them may be already familiar to some readers, such as the origin of tantalize, from the Greek legend of the punishment vm - meted out to Tantalus by the wrathful Zeus, or echo, from the fate of the perfidious nymph of that name. Such tales, though familiar to some, are included here for the benefit of those to whom they may be new. But I have found that few but scholars in the language know how the word clue, which was just used, acquired its present meaning that the Portuguese gave us coconut because, to their sailors in the sixteenth century, the nut resembled a coco, a grinning face that sylph was a coinage of that master charlatan or genius, depending upon the point of view, the sixteenth-century alchemist, Paracelsus that we owe our terms chapel and chaplain to the cloak or cape worn by the fourth-century monk, St. Martin that the name Easter was taken from a pagan goddess, and that the names of the days of the week denote dedication to ancient pagan gods. Whenever it has been possible, the stories are historical that is, for example, facts in the life of St. Martin are briefly stated to explain why his cloak was venerated the occasion for the coinage of sylph by Paracelsus is summarized a brief account tells why magenta commemorated a battle short sketches of the invasions of the Vandals and Tatars account for such words as vandal, tartar, and horde-, highly abridged biographies of such persons as the Scottish engineer, John L. McAdam, the Scottish chemist, Charles Macintosh, and others, tell why their names were adopted into the language an explanation is deduced why the French general, Martinet, became a byword in English, but not in French the historical circumstances that introduced the word nepotism are related, and so on, and so on... ... Read more

Customer Reviews (6)

5-0 out of 5 stars cute book!!
If you like trivia stories of where words come from, this is a great book.

4-0 out of 5 stars This Author is WELL informed, but slightly outdated
This is another of the books I use as reference for my Trivia games on a virtual world with a very international flavor.I don't think I have the whole series yet, but I'll certainly be getting more! This author is really into what he does, and obviously loves his work.It's amusing to simply read, very informative, and gives English "transliterations" of foriegn words that none of my Trivia players have argued with.

Some of the words have developed entirely different meanings since the book was written, so be sure to check a good dictionary if you AREN'T just reading it for fun.

It *is* very amusing to simply read it...At least if one enjoys this kind of thing.

5-0 out of 5 stars Delightful browsing
This is NOT an etymological reference work (for which I recommend Ayto), but rather a mentally stimulating 300 pages for browsing.

Don't expect to find a particular word and don't try to read it all at once. Instead, keep it by the bedside or in the car and read a page or two when you have a spare minute.

It's a bit dated, and some entries are obscure or unfamiliar, but Harry Potter fans will delight to find such words as basilisk and mandrake.

There are many such non-academic books on the stories of word origins, but this one among many has somehow captured my preference. The balance of etymology and history provides many delightful little ah-hah! moments of new insights and connections.

This is best illustrated by example:

I just now randomly opened the book to page 58, where we learn that the bird 'canary' is indeed from the Canary Islands, which are so named in Pliny the Elder's account of the journey, in 40 B.C., of Juba, the Mauritanian chief, through the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar Strait) to an island overrun with dogs which he named Canaria, Latin for 'Island of Dogs' (canine).

In the next 3 pages one learns (in much greater detail):

The Latin 'cancelli', for lattice, gave us the word 'cancel' from the appearance of hash marks in the days before erasers (whose usage gave us the noun 'rubber').

Roman candidates for public office wore white as a sign of purity (like brides today), so 'candidatus' (clothed in white) gave us candidate, candor, and candid.

When Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba, the people explained they were Canibales, a dialectal pronunciation of Caribes, from which we get cannibal and Caribbean.

'Canopy' comes from the Greek konops, mosquito, for the purpose of the net it held.

One 'canters' on a horse when riding leisurely toward CANTERbury Cathedral for a picnic at the grave of Thomas a Becket, who was murdered in 1170 by his pal, King Henry II.

'Canvas' comes from the Latin for hemp, cannabis.

'Caper' and 'caprice' describe the antics of goats, the Latin for which is 'capra' (Capricorn). Elsewhere he explains how the leap of a goat, cabriolet in Latin, gave us 'cab', with taxi (like tax) indicating the necessity of paying a toll.

That's a summary of just three pages. A different sort of example from page 203 describes the amphibian once called an efeta and still today called an 'eft' in some regions. By tonal similarity, this became eveta. Since v and u were written the same, it became eueta. Just as 'due' sounds like 'dew', it became ewta, then ewte. Finally, the 'n' migrated, so that 'an ewte' became 'a newt'.

If you've read this far and enjoyed it, you'll like this book. Otherwise, forget it.

It's uncanny how often these factoids subsequently turn up in conversation or on Jeopardy the very same week you read it.

5-0 out of 5 stars You can learn something while reading for fun
I have always loved to explore word origins, which is why I love this book. While many of the origins are what you would expect, there are a few gems whose origin is most unusual. The word origins also show what a mongrel the English language is, with words developed using input from every corner of Europe, the Islamic areas of North Africa and Asia and even as far away as British India. It was fascinating to learn how so many of our words had a different form in one language and was altered two or three times before reaching the final form that we know today. I strongly recommend this to anyone interested in word origins or who just wants to learn something while doing some recreational reading.

4-0 out of 5 stars Lots of fun and entertating
I reviewed this book a few years ago but now that I have lived with it I think it is interesting and fun to read. The origin of many idioms and phrases is entertaining. ... Read more

16. Oxford School Dictionary of Word Origins 2009: The Curious Twists and Turns of the Cool and Weird Words We Use
by John Ayto
Hardcover: 512 Pages (2009-05-21)
list price: US$17.43 -- used & new: US$13.08
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0199112215
Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars
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With headwords in colour, and quirky character illustrations, this dictionary recounts the absorbing and fascinating history of thousands of words. This new edition takes a fresh look at the cool and curious words we use, and tells the stories of where words come from, whether they are to do with food, the supernatural, fashion, invented words, or words from the 80s, 90s, and noughties. Who ate the first sandwich? Where does abracadabra come from? Would you really be spooked by a zombie? John Ayto, top word expert entertains all ages from eight to eighty with this informative and humorous dictionary. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

1-0 out of 5 stars Review of Packaging
This book was very very badly packaged, especially being a book. It arrived slightly damaged and soiled. ... Read more

17. The Insect That Stole Butter: Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins
Hardcover: 480 Pages (2009-12-20)
list price: US$21.95 -- used & new: US$13.56
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0199547920
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

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Drawing on Oxford's unrivalled dictionary research program and language monitoring, this fascinating volume captures the often odd and unexpected stories behind many of our most curious expressions, offering a rich account that far exceeds what can be found in a general dictionary.
Indeed, this alphabetically organized resource contains a wealth of information on the history of English words, in a delightful roadmap tracing the curious twists and turns that words take as their meanings evolve over the centuries. We learn, for instance, that "abracadabra," just a fun word said by magicians today, was once believed to actually be a magic word that was supposed to be a charm against fever and was often engraved on an amulet worn around the neck. And we also discover the curious history of the word "ache," whose noun form was once pronounced "aitch" and whose verb form was spelled "ake," while the modern word is spelled like the old noun but pronounced like the old verb. The entries include the first known use of a word along with examples that illustrate the many faces of the particular word or phrase. For instance, under "bunny," which was originally a term of endearment (and only later a small rabbit), the editor also discusses "bunny boiler" (a woman who acts vengefully after having been spurned), which refers to the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction. Also featured are almost 20 special panels that cover expressions common in English but drawn from other languages, such as "coffee," "sugar," and "candy" from Arabic or "booze," "brandy," and "gin" (Dutch).
The Insect that Stole Butter? is a must-have volume for anyone who loves language and enjoys the strange and singular tales of the history of words. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars Great walk through word etymology!
Recently received this book as a gift from my daughter (she know I love to read any kind of reference book). What a great book! Beyond the origins of 100's of words, there is a great etymon list in the front that give some of the origins and meaning of commonly used prefixes and suffixes. There are also special sections dedicated to words originating with specific cultures (Dutch, Arabic, etc.). There is another book by the same editor called 'From the Horses Mouth' that deals with idiom origins. As soon as I finish this one, I getting that one!

4-0 out of 5 stars Fun Resource
This is a fun book and will be a good resource to look up word origins. ... Read more

18. Where Words Come From: A Dictionary of Word Origins
by Fred Sedgwick
Paperback: 224 Pages (2009-07-10)
list price: US$19.95 -- used & new: US$9.55
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1847062741
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Did you know that 'aardvark' comes from the South African for 'earth pig' Or that 'assassin' actually comes from the Arabic for 'smoker of hashish'? This book explains why 'bungalow' comes from Hindi and what exactly 'hello' is short for. It is an invaluable guide to the fascinating origins of everyday words. There are literally tens of thousands of English words with entertaining and engaging stories behind them. Tackling the topic in an anecdotal and yet thorough manner, Fred Sedgwick's pithy, interesting, upbeat and approachable Where Words Come From is the etymological dictionary for everyone, a book to inspire wonder, debate and laughter. ... Read more

19. The Word Origin 2011 Day-to-Day Calendar
by Gregory McNamee
Calendar: 640 Pages (2010-07-15)
list price: US$13.99 -- used & new: US$10.07
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0740797174
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Editorial Review

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"Yips" "Guillotine" "Bada-Bing"

Word lovers delight in the entertaining insight The Word Origin 2011 Day-to-Day Calendar brings to everyday words, cliches, expressions, and brand names. Each day offers interesting glimpses into the origin and development of the colorful words and phrases we all use. ... Read more

20. The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language
by Christine Kenneally
Paperback: 368 Pages (2008-05-27)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$6.33
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: B001JQLN8W
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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An accessible exploration of a burgeoning new field: the incredible evolution of language

The first popular book to recount the exciting, very recent developments in tracing the origins of language, The First Word is at the forefront of a controversial, compelling new field. Acclaimed science writer Christine Kenneally explains how a relatively small group of scientists that include Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker assembled the astounding narrative of how the fundamental process of evolution produced a linguistic ape—in other words, us. Infused with the wonder of discovery, this vital and engrossing book offers us all a better understanding of the story of humankind. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (34)

5-0 out of 5 stars "Have words been around longer than humans?"
Cambridge University-educated linguist Christine Kenneally, in her intriguing historical chronicle of the evolution of human language, asks the question:"Do animals have [words]?And if they do, does that mean that words have been around longer than humans?" She answers her own question in the affirmative, citing various studies including one on African vervet monkeys communicating among themselves.Kenneally's dealing with this perplexing question is one many concerning the evolution of language in her informative and insightful book: "The First Word:The Search for the Origins of Language."

The volume is thoroughly researched and well documented and, happily, is easily accessible to persons like myself not trained in linguistics or semantics.Indeed, it is the kind of book where one learns about a rarefied discipline not previously understood. What fun!I'm back in school but with no exam at the end.Thank you Ms. Kenneally.

1-0 out of 5 stars Nothing but a Polemic
This book is nothing but a polemic with Chompsky as a hero.It has nothing to say about how language came about.I quit reading it about half way through.Save your time and money.This book simply isn't worth reading.

4-0 out of 5 stars Improves over time
That I give this book 4 stars is owing to the very compelling subject matter it addresses; the scholarship it reviews; and the fascinating questions it raises.Less 1 star (very nearly less 4 stars) for the abysmal writing in the first 100 or so pages of TFW.TFW reads like a 3rd rate high school book report in its first few chapters.I was really quite shocked reading them, esp. considering the author's pedigree (PhD in linguistics; occasional writer for the New Yorker Magazine; etc.).As the title of my review indicates, however, the author eventually (thankfully!) caught her stride.The second two-thirds of TFW were, I thought, quite well-written and very interesting.A few times along the way, Kenneally notes that TFW was the product of 5 years' worth of research and writing.Considering the entire book is cribbed together from other researchers' ideas -- largely drawn from a relatively short bibliography -- that seems an inordinately long time to have spent researching and writing this book.I assume she cobbled it together in her off hours, between stints at the New Yorker and elsewhere.On the other hand, a 5 year incubation period might explain the wild upwards swing in the quality of the writing in TFW from its start to its finish.In the end, Kenneally strikes this reader as a thoughtful and informative reporter but a not obviously original thinker.I'm glad I read TFW: it's a fine enough introduction to a fascinating topic, and it turned me on to some of the essential scholarship in the field.Having read TFW, I now look forward to delving into some more serious literature on the origins and evolution of language.

3-0 out of 5 stars What Is Language?
The study of the evolution of language began in earnest in the 1990s when Paul Bloom and Steven Pinker, linguists at MIT, took issue with Noam Chomsky's views on the subject. In an interview, Bloom said:

"And then, at the same time, Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini, a colleague and friend of mine in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, published an article in Cognition on the evolution of cognition and language. His article presented in this very sharp, cogent fashion the Chomskyan view on evolution--basically he said that there was very little interesting to make of the connection between natural selection and cognition and that language has features that simply cannot be explained in terms of adaption. I strongly disagreed with it." (p. 52)

Christine Kenneally provides us with the following Chomskyan quotes:

"Chomsky's signature claim is that all humans share a 'universal grammar,' otherwise known as UG, a set of rules that can generate the syntax of every human language. This means that apart from the difference in a few mental settings, English and Mohawk, for example, are essentially the same language. Traditionally researchers committed to Chomskyan linguistics believed that universal grammar exists in some part of our brain in a language organ that all humans possess but no other animals have. (p. 25)

"As he wrote in 1975: 'A human language is a system of remarkable complexity. To come to know a human language would be an extraordinary achievement for a creature not specifically designed to accomplish this task. A normal child acquires this knowledge on relatively slight exposure and without specific training. He can then quite effortlessly make use of an intricate structure of specific rules and guiding principles to convey his thoughts and feelings to others, arousing in them novel ideas and subtle perceptions and judgments.' (p. 36 )

"In his book Language and Mind he wrote, 'It is perfectly safe to attribute this development [of innate mental structure] to `natural selection,' so long as we realize that there is no substance to this assertion, that it amounts to nothing more than a belief that there is some naturalistic explanation for these phenomena.'" (p. 38)

Humans have the observable and definable property of being able to converse with one another. This property is closely related to the unobservable and indefinable properties of free will and conscious knowledge. We can comprehend the unobservable properties because we have the ability to transcend ourselves and make ourselves the subject of our own knowledge. Existentialism is a philosophy that arises from this self-knowledge and addresses our need to decide what to do with our lives. Kenneally acknowledges that the uniqueness of human beings is based on both existential and observable properties:

"But asking what makes humans unique is almost always qualitatively different from asking what makes the antelope unique, or the sloth, or the dung beetle. These questions don't have to be, but have historically been so, the former is never purely scientific, but is inevitably shaded by our self-regard and is always, to some degree, existential." (p. 85)

Science is a method of inquiry that excludes existential questions by focusing on phenomena. In evolutionary biology, the two paramount phenomena are the adaptation of species to their environment and common descent, the latter referring to the evolution of mammals from fish and fish from bacteria. Darwinian natural selection only explains adaptation. The increase in the complexity of life over time, like the Big Bang 14 billion years ago and the origin of life 3.5 billion years ago, lacks a scientific explanation. That Darwinism has this limited scope of applicability appears to be understood only by creationists, advocates of intelligent design, and evolutionary biologist. Like many amateur biologists, Kenneally thinks natural selection explains the complexity of living organisms:

"They [Pinker and Bloom] particularly emphasized that language is incredibly complex, as Chomsky had been saying for decades. Indeed, it was the enormous complexity of language that made is hard to imagine not merely how it had evolved but that it had evolved at all.

"But, continued Pinker and Bloom, complexity is not a problem for evolution. Consider the eye. The little organ is composed of many specialized parts, each delicately calibrated to perform its role in conjunction with the others. It includes the cornea,...Even Darwin said that it was hard to image how the eye could have evolved.

"And yet, he explained, it did evolve, and the only possible way is through natural selection--the inestimable back-and-forth of random genetic mutation with small effects...Over the eons, those small changes accreted and eventually resulted in the eye as we know it." (pp. 59-60)

Kenneally, following Chomsky, says the human eye and language are both complex. The human eye is complex in the ways spelled out by Kenneally. One might add to her macroscopic description that the location of every amino acid in every protein in the eye is exactly known. The complexity of the human eye is an observable property.

The idea that language is a complex is a different matter entirely. Language is the ability to create sentences and requires learning many rules of grammar and many vocabulary words. According to Chomsky, it also means being born with a UG. To make plurals in English you add -s or -es if the word is not irregular, and you put the subject before the verb in declarative sentences. Those who speak American Sign Language (ASL) fluently add the equivalent of the English -ing to verbs to show grammatical aspect.

Investigating the evolution of language is perfectly reasonable, as Kenneally explains, because it presumably evolved from the ability of animals to communicate with one another. As the quotes above indicate, it is also an ability children inherit from their parents. Adults who learn ASL as adolescents, for example, don't sign as well as children--even children taught ASL by grammatically challenged adults.

However, the evolution of language requires an understanding of the evolution of grammar. Grammatical rules are hard to learn and a person trying to understand a book on grammar may exclaim, "Wow. This is complex!" But grammar is not complex in a molecular or thermodynamic sense. The rules of grammar are statements about abstractions.

Abstractions are mental beings that humans, which are real beings, create. Abstractions are drawn from and are based on real beings, but only have a fleeting and mysterious existence. The abstraction represented by the word dog is based on real four-legged beings. It is a first order abstraction, if you will, because it is once removed from real beings. The abstraction represented by the word noun is based on the sound humans make when communicating about dogs and other subjects. This makes nouns second order abstractions and the parts of speech third order abstractions. The rules of grammar are sentences about abstractions involving all five parts of the English sentence: subject, complement, verb, object, and adverbial.

Abstractions do not take up space and have mass. This is why humans are indefinabilities, embodied spirits, or ensouled bodies. This is also why evolution only applies to the bodies of humans, not their souls. To investigate the evolution of an adaptive trait without defining that adaptive trait other than to assert the trait is complex is not scientific.

Intelligence, for example, is an adaptive trait because it can be defined as problem solving. Kenneally tells about a collie named Rico who knows the meaning of hundreds of words and can fetch items by name. When commanded to fetch an item whose name it doesn't know, it solves the problem by retrieving an object it never saw before. Chimpanzees are known to engage in deceptive behavior. The idea that language is just another example of the superiority of human intelligence was abandoned with the work of Chomsky.

Another reason language creates a problem for evolutionary biology concerns the past and the future. The ability to create and understand sentences requires an ability to know what was said in the past and is likely to be said in the future. The word cat, for example, consists of three phonemes--there are 40 in English--and lasts for about a second. The listener has to remember all three phonemes. A story that begins "Once upon a time" requires the speaker to predict the rest of the clause and the hearer to remember the beginning adverbial. But what is the past and what is the future? The past and the future are mental beings, like abstractions, that exist only in the minds of those contemplating the past and the future.

This is what Kenneally says about time:

"Only recently we believed that animals lived forever in the present, unable to think about the future. But in 2006 Nicholas Mulcahy and Josep Call showed that orangutans and bonobos could plan for a future event. In a number of experiments Mulcahy and Call demonstrated that both kinds of animals were able to select from a range of tools the appropriate instruments for getting food out of a specially constructed device, even though they wouldn't have access to the device for up to fourteen hours." (p. 105)

These experiments demonstrate that the sense knowledge of animals includes knowledge of the future. The experiments do not show that animals have the conscious knowledge of humans about the past and future. The distinction between conscious knowledge and sense knowledge is made in the famous poem by Robert Burns:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

We can assume animals have no concept of the past and future because no animal ever said it did. It might be objected that no animal has ever said that it walked. However, we can define walking. We can't explicate what the past and the future are because the past and future are mental beings.

The other problem with understanding the evolution of language is what linguists call the "productivity" of language. Humans have the ability to create sentences that have never been created before. There are an infinite number of possible sentences. This is the unobservable infinity of existentialism, not the definable or observable infinity of mathematics and science. The ability of humans to create an infinite number of clauses and sentences is related to our finitude. Our finitude is based on the unobservable truth that we are unified with respect to ourselves and different from other beings.

In dismissing the idea that language evolved, Chomsky and his followers were saying human beings have spiritual souls, without actually using the four-letter word. They were saying as much without consciously knowing that the human soul is the metaphysical principle that makes us unique among other categories of organisms and the human body is the correlative principle that makes us different from one another.

4-0 out of 5 stars Very broad and well-written introduction to the field of study
The study of the origins of language, as we learn in this book, is in many ways a new field. It is a field which involves not only linguistics, but also biology, anthropology, computer science, and so on. Christine Kenneally tries to cover the specific points of contention as she reviews the field, and therefore the book is certainly not light on content. But this book is written with a very engaging style, and because it assumes very little knowledge, it is certainly accessible to us non-linguists.

The book has much interesting information, and you will learn a lot about the evolution of language. It covers how the field started, and how for a long time people claimed that language just "appeared" all at once, and that it did not evolve (a view that few people hold now.) It covers how experiments have deduced facts about our brains by comparing us to apes and other animals, and how there is no a single specific "language" part of the brain. It also covers how almost all parts of the brain that facilitate language in humans are also present in apes. It is written from a mostly-neutral standpoint, presenting the theories of Pinker, Chomsky, and others without picking who is "correct" in most cases.

Unfortunately, the book has some organizational issues. It jumps around, and it often delves too deeply into less interesting personal clashes among the academics. However, overall, this book is a good read, and I certainly learned a lot from it. ... Read more

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