By Thomas Cunliffe TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 2 Dec. 2011
Like many people I am mildly interested in where words come from and I’ve occasionally read books like David Crystal’s By Hook Or By Crook: A Journey in Search of English which looks at where English place-names come from. Unless books like these are skilfully written they can quickly become tedious and its usually best to get this sort of information in smallers chunk from newspapers or magazines.
Mark Forsyth publishes the Inky Fool blog in which he looks at the derivation of words, but links one to another in a humorous ramble through the English language. Mark is one of those lucky bloggers who’s blog has now become a book, The Etymologicon, and I have to say, it makes for a very good read which I’ve been dipping into over the last week.
Its probably better to illustrate Mark’s methods with an example than to describe them. For example, in a chapter headed A Game of Chicken Mark describes how in medieval France people used to gamble by putting money in a pot then throwing stones at a chicken until someone hit it. This was the game of poule, which is French for chicken. Later on, the pot of money in the middle of a card table came to be known as the poule and this term was picked up by English gamblers who changed the spelling to pool.
We read on to learn the forward connections to the game of pool and then to pooling money, and resources and then onto typing pools and car pools and ends with pointing gout that we have all become part of the gene pool “which, etymologically, means that we are all little bits of chicken”.
I was surprised how in order to get his connections Mark has to link words from all the European languages. I’d heard before that most of our languages spring from a root called Proto Indo European but it never struck me how much of the English language is derived from this source.
This is a nicely produced book which would be a perfect gift for anyone who might be interested in where our words come from.
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