Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning” as Want to Read:
Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning

3.54  ·  Rating Details ·  85 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
"My favorite popular word book of the year"
-William Safire, NY Times 6/22/2008

A fun, new approach to examining etymology!

Many common English words started out with an entirely different meaning than the one we know today. For example:

The word adamant came into English around 855 C.E. as a synonym for 'diamond,' very different from today's meaning of the word: "utterly un
...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 25th 2008 by Random House Reference
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Semantic Antics, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Semantic Antics

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jason
Mar 25, 2016 Jason rated it liked it
This wasn't exactly what I expected, and at first I found it terribly insulting to anyone's intelligence. Some of the entries (the book is alphabetized in dictionary style) had no justification for being included. I stuck with it, however, and became familiar with the Steinmetz style. I learned about amelioration and pejoration, and appreciated the wealth of quotations exemplifying a given word's change in usage. Being a reference book, it can be a bit tiresome to read a lot of in one sitting, ...more
Tim
Dec 09, 2009 Tim rated it it was amazing
Good book to dip into - I read it during free moments at lunch. It provides a history of individual words and how their meanings have developed over time. My conversation would be so much richer if I could only remember a few of the stories. The author picks interesting words and has good modern and historical/literary examples.
Eric
May 15, 2008 Eric rated it really liked it
This is a good little book. Steinmetz takes a collection of words and discusses how the meanings have shifted since they came into the English language. It's also nice, as you can read straight through, or flip about. Steinmetz also uses some excellent examples to illustrate his work. Quite good.
Catherine
Mar 25, 2013 Catherine rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, language
I had a lot of fun exploring the shifting meanings of commonly used words.
Glenn
Oct 02, 2008 Glenn rated it it was ok
Who new that "yelp" wasn't onomatopoeic but instead had a long history, originally meaning "to speak vainly"? [and do we care?] This is basically a dictionary (highly selective--too selective, really, since Steinmetz's choices seem pretty random). Not a good "beach read" but interesting, and easy to cover the "A" words or "B" words or "C" words (etc) in the 10 mins I have before I fall asleep each night.
Rowena
Feb 14, 2013 Rowena rated it liked it
Shelves: language
For a linguistics lover, this is a great book! It gives examples of how many common English words started out with a totally different meaning. I also enjoyed the quotations from novels that were included in the book. The only thing I didn't like very much was the book's organization; the words are listed alphabetically, like in a dictionary. Overall, I really enjoyed reading it.
steven
Apr 16, 2008 steven rated it it was ok
It's a dictionary.

Okay, so it's not the OED. And it doesn't carry so much as a third of the words in the English language. But it's a dictionary; not exactly something to curl up with and read cover-to-cover, unless you're really into encyclopedic knowledge.
John-Scott
Jun 02, 2008 John-Scott rated it it was ok
If you enjoy words - this is a great reference book - although it only explores a limited set of words as they've evolved.

As the Web evolves, semantics will be a factor as in understanding the context; looking for meaning. This topic is of professional interest to me.
Lori
Jul 10, 2010 Lori rated it it was ok
not what i expected, is just a dictionary of words and their origins. thought it would be more in story format
Christina
Oct 19, 2008 Christina rated it it was ok
was hoping this would be more interesting than it was. turned out, it was a coffee table kind of book...
John
Oct 24, 2008 John rated it liked it
Shelves: library_books
Interesting idea, but I'm glad I didn't spend money on the book; after a while the words began running together.
Lauren
Oct 20, 2008 Lauren rated it really liked it
This book is Great! I completely let out my inner nerd when I saw this! It's a book that tells the change in word meanings throughout history.
Mackenzie
Oct 31, 2015 Mackenzie rated it liked it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I found it very interesting, but it soon became boring because it is organized like a dictionary, so I was basically reading a dictionary.
J.M.
May 05, 2012 J.M. rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
An interesting look at some common, everyday words and how their meaning evolved throughout the ages. Laid out in dictionary format, this isn't exactly something you'd read back to back.
Initialed
Initialed rated it it was amazing
Aug 02, 2011
Kate
Kate rated it really liked it
Nov 13, 2012
Marielle
Marielle rated it it was ok
Oct 02, 2013
Victoria
Victoria rated it it was amazing
May 29, 2016
Logan
Logan rated it really liked it
Mar 25, 2009
Mike Leonardi
Mike Leonardi rated it liked it
Jun 04, 2013
Alison
Alison rated it it was ok
Nov 11, 2015
Kenneth Griswold
Kenneth Griswold rated it liked it
Jan 02, 2016
Kate
Kate rated it liked it
Oct 02, 2016
Jen
Jen rated it it was ok
Nov 29, 2011
Ashley
Ashley rated it it was amazing
Jan 02, 2016
Amanda
Amanda rated it liked it
Feb 12, 2012
Tracey
Tracey rated it really liked it
Apr 18, 2015
Luke
Luke rated it it was amazing
May 30, 2014
Brett
Brett rated it liked it
Dec 09, 2010
Anya
Anya rated it really liked it
Aug 04, 2014
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Complete Dictionary of Symbols
  • Spellbound: The Surprising Origins and Astonishing Secrets of English Spelling
  • Things That Make Us (Sic): The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar Takes on Madison Avenue, Hollywood, the White House, and the World
  • Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling
  • Beyond Power:  On Women, Men and Morals
  • The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten
  • Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World
  • From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages
  • Common Errors in English Usage
  • The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics
  • The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English
  • A Little Book of Language
  • I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language
  • The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of "Proper" English, from Shakespeare to South Park
  • Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean
  • The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School & the Institute of Social Research, 1923-50
  • The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention
  • The Concise Dictionary of English Etymology

Share This Book