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The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language

4.19  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,090 Ratings  ·  532 Reviews
Do you know why...
...a mortgage is literally a death pledge? ...why guns have girls' names? ...why salt is related to soldier?
You're about to find out...
The Etymologicon (e-t?-'ma-la-ji-kan) is:
*Witty (wi-te\): Full of clever humor*Erudite (er-?-dit): Showing knowledge*Ribald (ri-b?ld): Crude, offensive
"The Etymologicon "is a completely unauthorized guide to the st
Hardcover, 252 pages
Published November 3rd 2011 by Icon Books (first published November 2011)
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Salt by Mark KurlanskyAt Home by Bill BrysonThe Professor and the Madman by Simon WinchesterGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondA History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
Histories of the Everyday
26th out of 225 books — 248 voters
The Etymologicon by Mark ForsythThe Language Instinct by Steven PinkerThe Horologicon by Mark ForsythEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne TrussThe Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
Fun Linguistics/Word book
1st out of 11 books — 6 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Aug 09, 2013 Trevor rated it it was amazing
Words are the strangest of things. And that is because they aren’t really things at all. Not things, at least, with fixed and final essences. They change and they morph and they even turned into their own opposites in ways that ‘things’ generally don’t. Well, unless they are caterpillars and butterflies – butterflies even rate a mention in this wonderful and endlessly amusing book. You are going to have to get hold of this, you know.

We’ve become fooled, you see, by the OED – the fact you can ‘lo
Bill  Kerwin

This is an entertaining survey of etymological examples, written in a breezy style, and constructed according to a clever rule: there is an etymological link between every chapter and the next, and the last chapter links to the first. Hence the title "a circular stroll." It is also a useful bathroom book, ideal for keeping the mind busy while the body is otherwise engaged.

But Forsyth tries too hard. He is a genuinely amusing writer, but by the end of the book I began to sense that he really didn
May 20, 2015 Caroline rated it did not like it
Shelves: miscellaneous
I’m sorry to say that as time went on I found this book very boring. It is written in a serpentine fashion, with the origin of one word slipping kind of seamlessly into the origin of the next, and it is written in a rather chummy down-the-pub kind of language ”when John grew up he began telling people that they were naughty and chucking them in a river. Now if you or I tried a stunt like that we’d be brought up by the police pretty sharpish. But John got away with it and, if you can believe it, ...more
As someone who really loves words and their meanings and histories I can't say enough how much I loved this book. I did not want it to end and now I want to find more books just like it. Some things I knew but I learned a lot. The joy is in finding them out so I won't give any away on here.

This book was great from start to finish and for anyone with a love of words it is a must-read.
Nov 02, 2015 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to James by: Shhexycorin
There can be few better recommendations for any book than that you continuously feel the need to read excerpts out to those around you, no matter what they are doing (or what else they are trying to read themselves). "Oh, this one is great."; "Just this one and I'll stop."; "Ah, wait, this one is really good too.". I've only felt the need to do this with two books this year — this one because I was really enjoying it, the other because it was just so ridiculous in places.

The Etymologicon is a bo
A quite wonderful little book.

This got onto my long-list because of these glowing reviews from James, Nikki and Paul.

As James says:
There can be few better recommendations for any book than that you continuously feel the need to read excepts out to those around you, no matter what they are doing (or what else they are trying to read themselves). "Oh, this one is great."; "Just this one and I'll stop."; "Ah, wait, this one is really good too."
I did the same myself, at length.

Did you know that av
Brian Clegg
Nov 16, 2011 Brian Clegg rated it it was amazing
I sometimes get sent to read a book that doesn't fit with but that I want to tell the world about. Such a book is The Etymologicon.

I ought to get a disclaimer out of the way - this title is published by Icon, the same people who publish my Inflight Science, but don't worry, I've slagged off their books in the past.

As the name sort of suggests, this is a book about where words come from, which as a writer I'm a sucker for - but anyone should find it fun. It's light, enter
Jan 09, 2012 Woodge rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, lexicon
The subtitle sums it up pretty nicely: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language. Forsyth, the man behind the blog Inky Fool, is obsessed with where words come from and with wit takes you on a roundabout journey through his obsession. I started reading this fully thinking that I'd pick it up here and there when I needed a break from my current fiction in progress. But I pretty much read this book straight through and enjoyed it very much. The target audience is def ...more
Jun 06, 2012 Nicola rated it really liked it
I fear my burgeoning interest in etymology has turned me into a crashing bore. I can’t get through a conversation these days without a digression into the history of a particular word. My mum was showing me her lovely in-bloom garden the other day and all I was able to contribute was, ‘You know, foxgloves were originally called Folks’ gloves, because Folks were what people called fairies…’ (Cue polite ‘oh, really?’)

Apart from the health warning that this book will inhibit your ability to have no
Arielle Walker
Jul 02, 2015 Arielle Walker rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Is it too geeky to have wanted more detail? Just a little too much repetition at times while a little light on some of the explainations. Still an enjoyable little read.
Emma Sea
This book is a giant adventure playground for language. Sometimes I felt a tad dizzy and needed to sit quietly for a bit.
Lori Anderson
Feb 27, 2016 Lori Anderson rated it it was amazing
I normally don't pick up audio books...I have a difficult time with understanding and remembering. However my husband had this on Audible and since I love learning "where did that word come from" and "why do they call it that?", I gave it a try. Running the exact amount of time it took for us to travel to our destination and back was a big bonus.

I think I need to get the actual book for future reference.
B. Rule
Jan 31, 2012 B. Rule rated it liked it
This book has a number of really interesting etymological anecdotes. However, it has no bibliography, so I take them with a grain of salt despite the author's protestations that they're all sourced and true. I would give this book a higher rating, but where the author clearly thought he was being cute and light by skipping from story to story with a kind of "before and after" narrative skein, it ended up being more exhausting than amusing. It sort of felt like talking to an autistic person who n ...more
Jan 14, 2012 Nikki rated it really liked it
The Etymologicon might sound dry, in theory: a book which takes you through a load of connections between words in the English language. But it's funny and the connections are well chosen to give you a moment of what-the-heck which really does make you want to read on. Some of it would be well loved by schoolboys, really, with conclusions about how we're orbiting the sun on a giant testicle. (Read it if you don't believe me.)

It was a very good read to dip in and out of while sat in A&E waiti
Aug 31, 2015 Abhinay rated it really liked it
Although i found a few parts in the book a tedious read, the overall experience for me was a delectable one. Like i have been doing with books on Etymology, i have summarised a few points that i found informative. I shall post them here 'sharpish', and i would like to inform the reader that this book was my second in Etymology, and a multifold improvement over Bill Bryson's 'Mother Tongue' (For which i have written a summary, you can skip the book and read my gist haha). So here they are:

1. A 't
Aug 26, 2014 Seth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the preface of The Etymologicon, the author describes regaling a party guest with etymological trivia:

"It was at this point that [the guest] made a dash for the door, but I was too quick for him. My blood was up and there was always something more to say. There always is, you know. There's always an extra connection, another link that joins two words that most of mankind quite blithely believe to be separate, which is why that fellow didn't escape until a couple of hours later when he managed
Dec 22, 2015 Emily rated it it was amazing
I found this utterly delightful, but then again, I also love A Way with Words, which one of my husband's friends recently described as the worst show on NPR, so I think it likely comes down to how much nascent interest you have in etymology. I enjoy those moments when I suddenly take notice of an old, familiar, well-used word and say, "Wait a minute, where did that come from?" This book does not have that much depth, but it makes up for it in a whirlwind tour of the English language that is funn ...more
Thomas Murphy
Apr 23, 2015 Thomas Murphy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone with an interest in language
Shelves: philosophical

I absolutely love this book. Mark Forsyth is an entertaining and witty host as he takes us by the hand and seamlessly traipses from one word to another to show us how words change their spelling, their context, their pronunciation and, ultimately their meaning, through time.

The above sounds very dry though this book is anything but dry. Mark's genius is to follow an apparently random path through etymology by cleverly linking each section both to the previous one and to the one which follows.

Carrie Mansfield
Dec 03, 2012 Carrie Mansfield rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A good, if a bit of a shallow read.

Honestly, it almost seems silly to review the book - if you like the sample on Amazon, you'll probably enjoy the book.

The book itself is divided into dozens of short sections(few pages at most) that go as follows:

1. An introduction to a root word and the origin of that word.
2. The word is then traced throughout history to its modern incantation.
3. A short paragraph using other related words
4. A bridge to the next section.

The book doesn't ever really deviate fro
Apr 02, 2016 Sabine rated it really liked it
Funny stories about miscellaneous words/phrases. The individual chapters are quite short so they are a fast read. The transitions are based on meanings of words which mostly works out OK, but for some chapters I found the transition a bit tenuous.

Forsyth presents the etymology in a fun, interesting way. He doesn't dive deeply into linguistics so this book can be read by everyone.
✘✘ Sarah ✘✘ (former Nefarious Breeder of Murderous Crustaceans)
This is a fantastic read and probably the most interesting book I have read so far this year. I love words and their hidden meanings so this book was a great find. I enjoyed Mark Forsyth’s writing a lot. At first it all seems a bit chaotic (with the origin of one word kind of slipping to the next) but I got used to it and ended up liking it a lot. Forsyth is an amusing writer and doesn’t take himself seriously, which is refreshing for this kind of book. It is entertaining, funny and educational ...more
Pete daPixie
I caught parts of this book when it was featured recently on B.B.C.'s Radio Four Book of the Week programme. As I was driving at the time I kept missing bits. However I heard enough to want to read it.
'The Etymologicon' is a clever little book that is filled with words, and with much wit thrown in, explains their derivations from Anglo-Saxon, Greek, Latin, modern European and Indian origins, to list just the main connections. Mark Forsyth explores language from the four corners that has contribu
Icon Books
‘I’m hooked on Forsyth’s book … Crikey, but this is addictive’ Mathew Parris, The Times

‘The Etymologicon contains fascinating facts’ Daily Mail

‘Kudos should go to Mark Forsyth, author of The Etymologicon … Clearly a man who knows his onions, Mr Forsyth must have worked 19 to the dozen, spotting red herrings and unravelling inkhorn terms, to bestow this boon – a work of the first water, to coin a phrase. Daily Telegraph, October 23

‘From Nazis and film buffs to heckling and humble pie, the obscure
Dec 21, 2015 Nathaniel rated it really liked it
I started and finished this book in the same day. That should tell you how much I enjoyed this book. It was both hilarious (Forsyth's dry humor is incredibly fun) and also really interesting. It's mostly just a long, stream-of-consciousness-feeling series of etymological musings, discussing the historical and etymological origins of all kinds of English phrases and words: from "the buck stops here" to "pooling your money" to "pot" (the drug) and on and on.

I couldn't hope to actually remember all
Jan 23, 2016 Jenny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. I'm definitely holding on to it as a reference with many dog-eared pages over the most interesting explanations/stories. The reason I gave it 3.5 and not 4 stars is that it made my head hurt sometimes. There is SO MUCH information in this little book. Sometimes, Forsyth's transitions are really smooth, and I don't feel like he's moving from one idea into another. Sometimes, his transitions are much clunkier, and I feel like I'm reading five different book
Chris Bauer
Jan 06, 2016 Chris Bauer rated it liked it
The author establishes himself as a true scholar on the history and hidden meanings of words and is delighted to share this knowledge with the reader in a dry, amusing wit.

Originally a series of blog posts, the author has compiled his work into a single collection. Forysth writes with confidence, authority and wit. While none of the mini-chapters were laugh out loud funny, it did leave a smirk on my face.

But the structure, format and overall writing became a bit tedious about halfway through the
Mar 01, 2014 Jeff rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
What a book!

This witty and far-ranging romp through the derivations of commonplace English words and phrases and exploration of the links between them will, I suspect, prove utterly seductive to anyone who likes the English language. Beware, though: there are no clear divisions between sections in this book; each rolls neatly into the next to the extent that it rightly calls itself a "circular stroll" ("that will bring us back to 'Do'") and that makes it remarkably difficult to put down; there's
Prima Seadiva
More like 2.5 stars for me. I listened to an audio version on my computer. I didn't love the reader whose name I don't recall and don't see in the info here. He varied between a kind of monotone and a tone that may have been intended as witty but grew tiresome.

In a way the reader fit the book which varied from sometimes interesting, sometimes too blithe with little depth and lots of assertions and sometimes the too snarky school boy.I love words and their history wanted to like it more than I di
Deborah Pickstone
After reading The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language I moved immediately to this. Cleverly amusing, utterly readable: taught me a lot about words and their relative values. That is, they exist, in meaning, in context, not in and of themselves as fixed symbols.

I remember my first year at high school I learned two things about words: the first, that words for concepts have ascribed meanings that often bear no resemblance in translation from one person to anot
Apr 11, 2012 Marion rated it really liked it
p. 97
Morpheus, from which morphine derives, was the Greek god of dreams. He was the son of Sleep and the brother of Fantasy, and he lived in a cave near the underworld here he would make dreams and then hang them upon a withered elm until they were ready to use.

p. 123
There was an explorer at the beginning of the nineteenth century called Alexander von Humboldt. He was in Venezuela and found an old parrot that still repeated words from the language of the Ature tribe. Nobody else did, because the
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Mark Forsyth is a writer, journalist and blogger. Every job he’s ever had, whether as a ghost-writer or proof-reader or copy-writer, has been to do with words. He started The Inky Fool blog in 2009 and now writes a post almost every day. The blog has received worldwide attention and enjoys an average of 4,000 hits per week.

Mr. Forsyth currently resides in London.
More about Mark Forsyth...

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“Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it was the sausage-maker who disposed of the body.” 22 likes
“Poetry is much more important than the truth, and, if you don't believe that, try using the two methods to get laid.” 19 likes
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