Like many of us I spent New Year’s Day reading a present. This is an old and much loved habit. This one, though, was very different from the historical tomes of the past ( belated acknowledgement to Hilary Mantel.*)
The book this year was very special as it was a gift from my grandson, who has now graduated from being the boy who loves chocolate to scientist in a white coat. By Mark Forsyth, it is called The Etymoligicon and he inscribed it To Wendy: A Book that I thought would be right up your street. Love…
Seems that the scientist in a white coat has bought the book for
himself and had gone back and got one for me. He and I have always had a love of words in common. One of our things used to be playing the dictionary game
|Aiming for the right word'.|
This book The Etymoligicon is a - sometimes droll, sometimes outright funny, always very learned - essay about the words we use, their historical meanings and the extraordinary way in which they are interconnected.
Forsyth explains the deep history of the words that we bandy about as though they sprang out of the ether ready-formed. He shows how words of many nations share deep roots of meaning which are as old as the existence of social communication. In so doing he dissolves artificial differences between people and cultures.
With witty wordy magic he connects the origin of making books to the contemporary notion of bookmaking; he connect compassion to pantaloons and panties, he connects the Gaullish trouser bragues with braggarts moving neatly onto codpieces and the bulging parts of buildings (braggets) and then –extraordinarily - onto the bracket symbol we use in texts. [ ]
Forsyth leads us on our merry way on the trail from genus to oxygen and nitrogen to things engendered onto military generals. If you are a general …you can order your troops to commit genocide.
And so, so on. In this book this and much more is laid out with such self-deprecating wit that you don’t realise just how much you are learning, not just about language but about the unities that bind our human culture.
Me, I think I know a lot about words and how to use them. But this New Year’s Day, sitting by the fire reading The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth, I learned a lot more. Wx
|Leaping out of a sea of words.|
What present did you read after Christmas? Write and tell me in two hundred words and I will publish the first three on my new companion blog Twice Tasted Books.
*I see Wolf Hall will be a TV drama. Stand by for another test of whether a great book works as a film/