Sunday, 23 December 2012

Book 93 of 2012: Dictionary of Word Origins

I've mentioned before just how interested I am in the history of the English language, so I've put together a little linguistics section on my bookshelf and I'm gradually working my way through those books in that bit of my library. At the beginning of the month that meant I was onto Dictionary of Word Origins by Linda and Roger Flavell, another book from a dictionary set that I got from The Book People.

This one is similar in format to the Dictionary of English Down Through the Ages though instead of being presented in terms of when the words came into use, this was sorted alphabetically. Each word had an explanation of the meaning, examples of its use in literature or other written texts and then a detailed history of its use (where possible).
It was a really interesting book. I really enjoy learning where the words we use every day come from. There was a little bit of repetition between this and the English Down Through The Ages book that I read before, but no more than a handful of words.
It's not really the sort of book that you're supposed to pick up and read from cover to cover the way that I did. It says in the beginning that the book will probably be read in one of two ways; either dipped into when a person wants to look up the meaning of particular words, or skimmed with the reader stopping when they get to something that interests them. I think it would be better to just dip into it to find the meanings of odd words, but in doing that you'd miss out on some interesting word origins.
I was surprised that they couldn't have come up with one word beginning with 'X'. There seemed to be loads of words at the beginning, it took me ages to get to the end of C, but then there wasn't quite the same distribution with the other letters.
I've got two more books in this set to cover and I hope that they stick with this format. I like the way that they use quotes using the word, some of them are quite funny which helps to balance out the actual entries, some of which are quite dry. It's definitely a book I'm going to revisit in the future, especially if I'm still studying linguistics.
"Still later it fell victim to the American habit of creating verbs out of nouns, so that there is now a verb to alibi someone, meaning 'to provide an excuse of alibi'. There is also the rather neat expression an alibi artist, someone who is an expert at getting out of uncongenial or mundane tasks."Page 12

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