Book Review: The Etymologicon

DON’T be put off by the wordy (pun intended) title, The Etymologicon is an accessible, readable, funny look at the origin of words and the humorous links between ancient meanings and modern-day language.

The Etymologicon

Mark Forsyth

AUTHOR, Mark Forsyth, seems genuinely delighted to share his, self-confessed, odd obsession with words and his enthusiasm certainly pays off, making for a surprisingly entertaining read.

Forsyth’s inventive approach sees a collection of very short ‘chapters’, each relating to a particular word or phrase, and linking seamlessly to the next ‘chapter’ via increasingly unimaginable links.

For example, a chapter on codpieces precedes one on underwear, which is followed by another on pans and so on and so forth.

The fanatical wordsmith also puts to rest some age-old myths, including whether the aptly named Thomas Crapper actually invented the flushing toilet, and where the phrase “enough room to swing a cat” comes from (animal lovers should steer clear of this chapter).

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The entire book is littered with gems of wisdom, perfectly clipped into memorable sound-bites, which can be readily shared in order to make you appear knowledgeable and interesting, for example, did you know the light-hearted, multi-purpose greeting “Ciao” actually means, “I am your slave”?

The link between sex and bread also makes for good dinner party conversation, particularly if you’re dining at an Indian restaurant, where you would be eating ‘naked’ bread.

The passionate author does get bogged down with long-winded historical contexts and loses pace towards the end, but things pick right back up again with a whimsical quiz section.