Saturday, 1 December 2012

Book 76 of 2012: A Dictionary of English Down the Ages

The last two OU courses I've studied have been linguistics-based and I've discovered that it's something that really interests me. So when I wanted to make up a Book People order for free delivery the set of four 'dictionaries' I spotted seemed perfect. I started with what I thought was the first of the four, Dictionary of English Through the Ages (the others are dictionaries of word origins, proverbs and idioms), it actually turns out that it's the fourth of the set but as far as I can tell they can be read in any order.

It's basically a book looking at when and why certain words entered the English language, and rather than going about it in alphabetical order, it's presented as a sort of timeline of the UK (with events from around the world included where they've given words to English).

 
It was quite surprising to learn just how old some of the words that we use everyday are. It started in 1066 and worked forwards up to the 1990s and the only one that wasn't familiar to me was 'quisling'. Other words surprised me by being relatively modern when I would have expected them to be older. It also showed words that are linked by a common root word which you might not have guessed came for the same origin, like cinnamon and cannon (coming from a word meaning 'tube').

The book was well laid out with a little bit of information about the year or events that were being covered and then the word would be looked at. Those sections would cover where the word came from, how it was used, how it's meaning has changed as well as any quotes which were about the word or used it.

There was a bit of humour in it, though honestly I was expecting a bit more. At times some sections came across as a bit dry and dusty, especially if it was about something that I wasn't particularly interested in (like cricket which seems to have given us quite a few words). When there were humorous bits, they were funny, it's just a shame there weren't a few more of them.

One thing that the book could have benefitted from was a pronunciation guide. Based on other books I've read I was able to guess at how some words would've been pronounced, but something which cleared up exactly how to say them would've been good.

I really wish I'd had this when I was doing my course on the history of English; I could've made reference to it in several of my assignments. I'm quite interested to see what's in the other three books in the set.         
"Known originally as burnsides, by the 1880s the alternative sideburns was also current, since the hair was on the sides of the face, and this is now the modern English term."
Page 252

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