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

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  2,410 ratings  ·  350 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...more
Hardcover, 252 pages
Published November 3rd 2011 by Icon Books (first published November 2011)
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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...more
Killer Rabbit
The motley word nerd
Etymology is a worthy field of study, but its study was never such a romp until The Inky Fool entered the game. Here is an example of the sort of tidbit that you will discover by reading this book:

The pharmaceutical industry understood that morphine was a useful drug, but they were sensitive to doctors' concerns regarding the highly addictive nature of morphine. So they set about to create a non-addictive replacement. During testing, patients said that the new experimental dr...more
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
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'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 boo...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.
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...more
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
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...more
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...more
Brian Clegg
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...more
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...more
B. Rule
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
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.
Original Billith
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...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...more
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...more
Mar 01, 2014 Jeff rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
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...more
Dimitris Hall
I could quote almost any page of this book to demonstrate its awesomeness and healthy doses of "aha!" it can induce on the reader but that wouldn't do The Etymologicon justice; Mark Forsyth does such an awesome job of linking one word to the next with such -delighfully British- humorous descriptions and eloquence that simply picking and choosing doesn't feel right.

This book is an ode to the history and connectedness of languages, one delicious word -or group of words- after the other. You can g...more
This little book was on my (mental) "to purchase" list, but somehow I lost track of it. Until a few weeks ago, when I saw it in De Limerick, a bookstore in Ghent, Belgium. It must have been a sign, hahaha.

The Etymologicon offers a very nice, entertaining, and witty overview of some of the most used words in English. Mark Forsyth (see his website makes the link with other languages (Greek, Italian, French, Latin, Polish, old English, ...), depending on the term he's presenting. This...more
fervently read the first 3/4, got the main idea, skipped some to the end and just read the ones I found fascinating.

I mostly read this book in 15 min. increments ... better to soak in what was read. Otherwise, it might have overwhelming.

If you like The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, or Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, The OED,...more
This was one of the must fun books I have read in a long time! Mark Forsyth offers up an incredible number of anecdotes and stories about the origins of the words and phrases we use in everyday life. Thoroughly enjoyable, whether reading just a few pages, or a longer section. Even if you aren't a big word buff, the historical tales were amusing and enjoyable to read.

The only reason this drops a star is because it's just a little too un-serious for me. There's a lot of wordplay in the text (I gue...more
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
If you like language and words, you'll love this book. It looks at the etymological roots of words and explains how words are interconnect - some of them obvious, others not so much. We get to see the evolution and devolution of words with all the different possibilities where no one's really sure exactly what happened or where it came from. So not only is it cool for a word-geek like me, but it's entertaining in its own right. Random asides and humorous foot-notes (a la Terry Pratchett) had me...more
This was a lot of fun. I loved how it really was a circular stroll, I wound up back at the beginning in the end. I was busy boring my family with, "Did you know..."
I bought this book when I was in the UK based on the recommendation of a friend and it was well worth it. It is a sort of stream of consciousness stroll through words and phrases as their meaning is dissected down to the root and then built up over time. It is a guilty pleasure and full of information. I wouldn't use the term, "useless information" because all information has its use, but you have to have to right kind of dinner party to discuss the origin of the word "testament".

There is no re...more
This book is jammed pack with some of the best etymological histories Ive ever read. Its not one of those books you sit down and plow through. I usually read it while waiting for kids at the dentist or in the kitchen watching a pot boil (which completely, methodically, and scientifically invalidated the notion that a watched pot never boils...watched pots boil, too, in case you wondered.)

I recommend this as a carpool/bathroom reader/waiting room/pot watching book for those logomaniacs and lexorc...more
I thought this was a fantastic book! I have learnt many new things about language, as I have always had an interest in the English language I recommend this book to others who also have that interest. This book, I found, was very well researched and the individual chapters flowed very nicely and the links between them were very clever. I found it very addictive and not once did I lose interest, because of this I am actually sad that I have finished it. I will no doubt be re-reading it over and o...more
I received this book through the Goodreads first read programme. That has in no way affected my review.

The Etymologicon is one of those books that you can’t just sit and read. It’s the kind of book you pick up, read a little chunk and then put down feeling like you’ve learnt something.

And it is an interesting little read. As someone who likes words and reads extensively, it’s fun for me to discover the origins of words, or that words or phrases can have originally meant something completely dif...more
Dan Smith
Top quality bog book, in the best sense of the phrase, and a welcome addition to the bookshelf of anyone fascinated by etymology. Also, like Salt but less so, a broad but shallow dive into history and geography.

At times it strains to link one nugget to the next, and some of the entries are either fairly obvious or pointlessly speculative or obscure, but that's inevitable in this type of book, and there are surprisingly few instances of that.

A review could easily lead to a recitation of favourite...more
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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...
The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted Mark Forsyth's Gemel Edition Mark Forsyth’s Ternion Set

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“Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it was the sausage-maker who disposed of the body.” 15 likes
“Poetry is much more important than the truth, and, if you don't believe that, try using the two methods to get laid.” 12 likes
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