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

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4.22  ·  Rating details ·  7,345 ratings  ·  891 reviews
The Etymologicon springs from Mark Forsyth's Inky Fool blog on the strange connections between words. It's an occasionally ribald, frequently witty and unerringly erudite guided tour of the secret labyrinth that lurks beneath the English language, taking in monks and monkeys, film buffs and buffaloes, and explaining precisely what the Rolling Stones have to do with gardeni ...more
Hardcover, 252 pages
Published November 3rd 2011 by Icon Books (first published November 2011)
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RachaelSage I would say the style is very irreverent and even rollicking. Mark Forsyth adds in plenty of asides and funny footnotes while doing this amazing style…moreI would say the style is very irreverent and even rollicking. Mark Forsyth adds in plenty of asides and funny footnotes while doing this amazing style of storytelling that connects one thing to the next. I did notice a few moments of off-color humor, but in almost every case he brings the moment to a realization of why a particular phrase was used or how it was created. Read with an open mind and just be ready to laugh. (less)

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4.22  · 
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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
BlackOxford
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british
Linguistic Refreshment

The well of English wit at times seems inexhaustible both as culture and as language. The Etymologicon is one such time. It is the Oxford English Dictionary transcribed into precise short stories; Joyce’s Finnegans Wake explained; Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary annotated; and Wittgenstein’s Red and Blue Books vindicated.

Words connect only to other words and nothing else. But this makes them more not less useful. It means that meaning can be entirely in our heads. Not in any s
...more
Trevor
Aug 09, 2013 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
...more
Caroline
Feb 04, 2013 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
James
Aug 19, 2012 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
...more
Clouds
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
...more
Kim
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.
Aerin
Jan 23, 2017 rated it liked it
If you are hungry for a feast of mildly interesting linguistic factoids with which to gorge yourself and potentially vomit all over everyone around you, never fear - this book offers a bounteous buffet. In the introduction, Forsyth admits that the reason the book exists is to give him an outlet for all of his rambling and useless etymological knowledge, so that he need not continue to torment acquaintances with it. "Unlike me," he says, "a book could be left snugly on the bedside table or beside ...more
Becky
This is like stand-up comedy about etymology. I absolutely adored it. The book had me laughing within the first five minutes, and from there I was frequently giggling with quite a few bouts of raucous laughter.

There is no real discussion of the science of etymology like you would find in McWhorter’s books, but the same amount of passion is there. It is the most aptly named work of nonfiction- it really is a circular stroll. One thought about a word flows seamlessly to the next and all the sudde
...more
Conor
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was amazing.

Granted, I'm a word nerd, but this was really paced and organized in the most charming way, while still teaching me so much about common phrases and sayings. Forsyth is really clever and witty, and erudite on top of it all.

It's a rare book that will make me chuckle and also teach me valuable and new words! Such a fan of this one.
Becky
I love this book.
[love (v.) Old English lufian "to love, cherish, show love to; delight in, approve," from Proto-Germanic *lubojan (cognates: Old High German lubon, German lieben), from root of love (n.). Related: Loved; loving. ]

Right from the beginning it took off in a delightfully pedantic direction, with a casual encounter in a cafe turning from innocent etymological question into an explanation of the history and origin of every word ever, spawning the idea for this book.

[pedantic (adj.)
...more
James Hartley
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book, great fun and very informative, witty and interesting - recommended to anyone who likes words and knowing weird, random facts about them. Additional point for being the best toilet book Ive had in ages. ...more
Paul O'Neill
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Love words? Read this.
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.
Arielle Walker
Aug 09, 2013 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.
Brian Clegg
Nov 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I sometimes get sent to read a book that doesn't fit with www.popularscience.co.uk 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
Nicola
Jun 06, 2012 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
...more
Brent
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A fun look at the meanings and origins of English words
Woodge
Dec 29, 2011 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
B. Rule
Jan 28, 2012 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
Damian O
Nov 06, 2013 rated it liked it
A quick and riveting read. It reintroduces a subject we are all interested in to some degree.

A couple of criticisms:

1. Too short. ( this is serious, I have a few books on the subject and there are many examples where I think Forsyth could have gone even further). I finished it's large-text, wide margin format and felt a little cheated that it was so short.

2. Often leaves a story unfinished. I have seen some fair, valid criticisms from scholars saying the same thing. Mark Forsyth is not an auth
...more
Charlene
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: origin-of-words
I loved this book. So often I buy or borrow a book in the hopes of understanding where words or phrases come from. Instead of reading about a fun origin story, I end up with a boring book I have to make myself pay attention to. I got this for free through hoopla and figured I would listen to at least the first chapter or two in order to see if it was for me. This is the book on the origin of words I have been looking for these many years. It was everything I wished my previous books on the topic ...more
Nikki
Dec 29, 2011 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
...more
Lori Anderson
Feb 27, 2016 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.
Amber Dunten
The Etymologicon is fascinating, educational, and entertaining. It's essentially a non-stop 7-hour stream-of-consciousness flow, linking words and their histories with a wry, and sometimes downright snarky, sense of humor, demonstrating a sort of linguistic six degrees of separation. As a self-avowed word nerd, I loved it, but even I had to admit it's best taken in relatively small doses. As Forsyth himself tacitly admits in the preface, no normal person would want to listen to hours of this stu ...more
Cheryl
Jun 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sorry. I can only give it three stars because it was a lot of work to read and I don't think I'll remember anything from it tomorrow. Reading it was like binge-watching Jeopardy or something. And I did take frequent breaks, to try to absorb more.

I will say that I disagree with the reviewers who felt that the humor was too strained or heavy. I am sensitive to that, and often make a similar complaint about other books, but I found Forsyth deft. In fact, I do like his writing style and will try to
...more
✘✘ 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
Abhinay
Aug 31, 2015 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
...more
Victoria
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I admit, I'm a bit geeky, especially when it comes to words or books - and when there's a book about words, I turn from 'a bit geeky' to 'full blown geek mode'. That's where I am now. What is The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth? It's not an academic work, that's for sure, nor a thesis, nor a highly-focused and heavily detailed linguistic magnum opus. It's also not boring, or stuffy, or in fact anything it doesn't claim to be. If I had to describe The Etymologicon in one sentence, I'd probably say i ...more
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492 followers
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.
“Poetry is much more important than the truth, and, if you don't believe that, try using the two methods to get laid.” 32 likes
“Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it was the sausage-maker who disposed of the body.” 26 likes
More quotes…