Etymology is the study of word origins and the history of how meaning has changed over time. 412 (under Linguistics) is where you’ll find books on the topic generally but 422 Etymology of standard English, is where to go if, like me, you have an interest in the English Language (being the language with which I am most familiar). A look through just a few of the titles on the shelf tells you that English is anything but standard.
The ‘blurb’ (a word first appearing in a 1907 comic book) on the book Balderdash & Piffle by Alex Games reminds us that English words come from everywhere and ‘English is a vast, rambling conglomeration of words and phrases from a huge variety of times and places…’
Balderdash & Piffle reads like a history book so if you’re after something short and snappy Butt Rot & Bottom Gas: A glossary of tragically misunderstood words by Eric Grove Sr might be more to your taste.
Although the title sounded promising and the size appealing (A5 112 well-spaced pages), the book left me disappointed by its brevity.
In Borrowed Words: a history of loanwords in English, Philip Durkin traces the history of thousands of loanwords in English, some of which date back to the 5th Century AD. Although the title leans toward the academic, it is a well researched study of a language that has its roots in the earliest languages spoken and has continued to evolve to become the world’s most popular second language.
From Skedaddle to Selfie; Words of the generations by Allan Metalf is a lively look at words that define their times. Words included: ‘groovy’, ‘friends with benefits’, ‘dude’ ‘yuppie’, ‘rock and roll’ and many more. This is an easy book to get lost in as you search for familiar terms to discover their history.
If you believe words come from people and their exploits, perhaps Lord Sandwich and the Pants Man by Eamon Evans is worth a read? The book looks at common expressions and words to link them to real people in our past. Although Caesar can’t be attributed with the salad, the medical procedure, a caesarean, can be linked to the manner of Caesar’s birth. Words explored include cardigan, guy, biro, leotard and ‘peeping Tom’. A witty and and almost serious book.
Have you ever wondered why, despite the fact we generally love animals, we often use animal names as a term of abuse when referring to our fellow humans? Holy Cow! Doggerel, Catnaps, Scapegoats, Foxtrots, and Horse Feathers – Splendid Animal Words and Phrases by Boze Hadleigh is a great way to explore the animal epithets and phrases we take for granted.