Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Book 17 of 2014: Discovering Words by Julian Walker

I made a little section of one of my bookshelves ‘Non-fiction’ with predominantly linguistics-related books. Discovering Words was the very last of these books that I had left to read. I have no idea where I picked this up, I’m guessing a charity shop. It’s a little slim book which talks about where words came from and how the English language has changed through influences of other languages, much the same as the many other books dealing with this topic.

As it’s a fairly short book, I’ll keep the review itself fairly short too. ;-)

I managed to read it in about two days. It’s only 128 pages long and is really the sort of book you could probably dip into when you’re wanting to learn more about a particular word or time period. It would’ve been handy to reference in a couple of my U211 essays.

It was an interesting read though I felt that it could’ve gone into a little more detail on some of the terms that it used. Obviously there’s a fine line between a quick informative little booklet and a more detailed and longer text but, for example, ‘inkhorn term’ was used multiple times without actually clearly explaining what it was, whereas simpler terms did get explanations. I suppose it depends on the sorts of things that you’ve read before. Lots of the terms I already knew but for someone who hasn’t read as many books in such close concentration as I have might find it off-putting.

Another off-putting factor was the number of typos, in particular there was a part where it talked about alternative forms and then gave the example of ‘drived and drived’. I suspect that, given the context the second ‘drived’ should’ve been ‘driven’. But it was frustrating because it made me wonder what other errors there were that I wasn’t able to recognise. For that reason it’s perhaps a good thing that I didn’t use it in any essays!

I did feel like I already knew a lot of what Walker was talking about and so I wasn’t surprised to see that the list of references included books like those by David Crystal and Bill Bryson, which I’ve read myself recently (well, relatively recently at the time when I was reading Discovering Words). While this book was an interesting and quick read, I can’t help but feel that the other books do it better because of the level of detail. I think it would be better to read this first and then consult the others for a more in depth look at the same topics.

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Let me know what you think. :-)