Thoughts and other Miscellany

The Etymologicon – Mark Forsyth – 6/10

“It was after an incident such as this that my friends and family decided something must be done. They gathered for a confabulation and, having established that psychiatric care was beyond their means, they turned in despair to the publishing industry, which has a long history of picking up where social work leaves off.”


Mark Forsyth is the author of the Inky Fool blog where he delights in revealing the little known evolutions of some of our favourite words and phrases (today’s option: Bob’s Your Uncle). This book is a collection of similar thoughts, “organised” in a constant stream so that one chapter links to the next. He does manage to cover monkeys, film buffs and the Rolling Stones, so the structure of the book does not limit its content!

Forsyth has a wonderful sense of humour, and uses it to great effect to break up what could otherwise have been a very informative but dry work. Some of my favourite quotes:

“Do you know the difference between the clouds and the sky? If you do, you’re lucky, because if you live in England, the two are pretty much synonymous.”

“The Latin word for sausage was botulus, from which English gets two words. One of them is the lovely botuliform, which means sausage-shaped and is a more useful word than you might think. The other word is botulism.”

“If you were caught stealing a loaf of bread in early Victorian Britain you were sent to Australia, where there was less bread but much more sunshine. This system was abolished in 1850 when word got back to Britain that Australia was, in fact, a lovely place to live and therefore didn’t count as punishment.”

I found myself wondering as to the scholarly provenance of some of his explanations, but he provides a bibliography and references, so I suppose I shall have to put my Wikipedia-esque “citation needed” thoughts to one side.

This is a really delightful book for about 10-15 minutes. You can dip in, learn a few things, have a chuckle at some of what Forsyth has to say, and carry on with your day. However, my commute is usually 30-60 minutes, and in that time the light and fluffy tone got on my nerves. A minor quibble perhaps, but one that meant this book dragged on far too long for me. I would quite happily have read something half the size. 

Other opinions: A Common Reader, Cornflower Books

Additional information:
Copy from the Kindle Lending Library (!)
Publisher: Icon Books, 288 pages (I read the Kindle edition)
Order The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Languagefrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

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