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ISBN: 0375721134

Interesting stuff. Explains about origins of words that I’ve taken for granted (like ain’t) and things I didn’t know (like origin of OK).

By the end of the book, I really did understand how words are born,adopted (e.g. How they are naturalised/ anglicised, p316) and how they morph over time (morph is one such example!)

P39. Prof Allen Walker Read traced the proliferation of abbreviations to the late 1830s in Boston. “OW” was for “Oll Wright” (All Right) and “OK” was an abbreviation for “Oll Korrect” (All Correct). Most abbreviations then fell into disuse, except for OK.

P48. Chapter on “back-formations”, where words like “edit” (verb) were derived from “editor” (noun), rather than the typical way of forming longer words from shorter root words.

P49 – 51. Words like “enthuse” and “donate” were criticised and condemned in early 19th century (the book cites specific authors of books on English usage), but now has gained widespread usage.

P57. Chapter 8, on clipping/ shortening words. Practice can be traced back to early 1700s, where it was fashionable in England to shorten words when speaking informally (we can still find this happening).

P60. “zoo” is a shortened word from “zoological garden”.

P62. “Squash” (the gourd) is a shortened form of “isquoutersquash”, which itself was a borrowed word from Algonquian meaning “green things that can be eaten raw”

P68. On Contractions, like “had”, i’d, she’d, they’d, we’d, you’d. “Has” and “Have” created contractions like he’s, I’ve, it’s, they’ve, you’ve.

P69. “ain’t” is “am not” (why not amn’t?) see P72.

P70. A type called “wanna-contraction”: “wanna” from “want to”, “gonna” from “going to”, “oughta” from “ought to”, “shoulda” from “should have”.

P71. The contractions “I’d” and “I’ve” are used differently in American and British English. In BE, “I’d run out of ideas” or “I’ve to write home” is normal but in AE the same sentences would require “I had” or “I have”. In AE, “I’ll” can stand for “I shall” or “I will” but in BE “I’ll” can only stand for “I shall”. Explains that such differences are based mainly on tradition.

P80. Explains “why a muscle is like a mouse”. Both share a common ancestral source, the Indo-European word mus (meaning mouse). Indo-European is also where Germanic (ancestor of English) and Italic (ancestor of Latin) developed. Latin form of musculus meant little mouse. Which was applied to a muscle for the similarity of the muscle movement to a mouse. English speakers agreed and in 1300s borrowed the Latin term, spelling it muscle.

P85. On Doublets. Cloak (shaped like a bell) and Clock originate from medieval Latin Clocca (“bell”) by way of Old French Cloque.

P93. On Folk Etymologies (often invented by commoners). E.g. “Belfry” first appeared as “Berfrey” (via Old French and has Germanic origins to mean a seige tower). Then became a tower for watchmen, and eventually came to mean bell tower.
P95. Some words are ‘false etymologies’, where their origins are dubious or cannot be traced. E.g. Condom first appeared in 1706 but researchers have not been able to trace its origin (popular explanation is that its invented by a Dr Condom but this is not proven).

P103. “Nice” originally meant “stupid, ignorant”, then “fussy”, then “precise” and finally to mean “good”.

P105. Transformation of words; acquisition/ change of meanings over years. E.g. “awful” initially meant “inspiring awe” but now means “disagreeable”. P106. “deer” initially referred to any animal.

P126. “Academia” was the name of the estate, which was named in honour of a Greek hero of the Trojen War, Academus. The estate became a park and Plato formed a school at the grove in the park. The term Academia was later generalised/ applied to all schools.

On Generalization. P130. The word “Thing” meant “an assembly of people in a court of law or parliament” in Old English but gradually became generalised to mean “any matter, any thing”. The word “guys” meant males of strange appearance but was applied to mean a group of males, and now is even applied to a group inclusive of females.

On Specification (narrowing of meaning or scope of the word) P144. In the 1600s, “Computer” meant “a person who computes or calculates mathematically”. Now it means a programmed digital device.

P155. Chapter on “Baby Talk”. Words like “Bye-bye”, “mama”, “da-da”, “wee-wee” and “tummy” are some child-directed words (that become accepted use).

P163. Pakistan was from the initials Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir and ending with ~istan.

P166. Origin of the word “googol”. Coined by nine year old Milton Sirotta in 1940, when he was asked by his mathematician uncle Edward Kasner to name a very large number, larger than the number of elementary particles in the entire universe (est. to be 10 to the 80th power). Milton was thought to have been influenced by the name of a then popular comic-strip character Barney Google. Googol became an accepted word, which later in the Internet era, the inventors of Google used it as the basis for the name of their search engine.

P169. “Blurb” was invented by Frank Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) to describe “the exaggerated and effusive recommendations found on the dust jackets of books”.

On “Coinages” (pretty punny part on the coins and circulation analogy for words). P169. coinages out of circulation:
“PAWDLE (noun). A person of mediocre ability, raised to undeserved prominence: The company’s new CEO is a nice guy but a pawdle”.
“VOIP”, noun: food that is filling but tasteless. Verb: to eat hurriedly without tasting: Stop voiping your food!” (cited from Burgess Unabridged).

P173/ 174. New invented words like “Internet” (international + Arpanet), “blog” (Web Log) and spinning off Blogging, Blogger, vlog (video), phlog (photo), splog (spam).

On Epoynms (words derived from names of persons/ places). P207. “boycott” was from the name of land agent Captain Charles Boycott (1832 – 97) who refused to lower the rent of Irish tenants, which led to a ‘boycott’ by the tenants. “Atlas” (the book of maps) was derived from the picture of the mythological Atlas, supporting the world on his shoulder. (note: there are dictionaries devoted to Epoynms).

P217. Words like “accountable”, “donate”, “enthused”, “practitioner”, “presidential”, and “reliable” were condemned and ridiculed by influential critics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So were “finalize” and “prioritize” (use of ~ize to end the word), “preventive” and “hopefully”.

251. Onomatopoeic words are those that suggest/ mimic the sounds in nature or environment, or made by animals or people. E.g. Ahchoo, aha, ahem, bow-wow, ha-ha, hiss, moo, crash, whack, zing, click, oops, zoom.

P291. “Retronyms”, or new terms for old things. A “guitar” became an “acoustic guitar” (Retronym) when it needed to be differentiated with an “electric guitar” (neonym). Other examples: bar soap and liquid soap; print book and eBook.

P306-315 gives a span of the various eras where languages of other cultures have heavily influenced English. Over half of the English vocabulary consists of borrowings from other languages. Danish invasion of England in 800s, which introduced Norse words into the indigenous Old English (anger, cake, egg, law, root, sky, shirt, they, them, window). Then the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 (boil, fry, dance, painting, priest, army, battle, soldier, judge, jury, country, court, state).

P308. Cultural borrowings include Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Sanskrit, Dutch, French, German, Chinese, Japanese.

P315. “The English language hasn’t got to where it is by being pure”; Carl Sandburg, quoted by Richard Lederer in The Miracle of Language (1991).

Chpt 37 talks about how word history are reconstructed. Also what an Etymologist does and skills involved. Basically researchers trace the word back to its earliest source. Chapter also instructs how to read etymological abbreviations in dictionaries. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the basis for many other dictionaries in drawing the historical and etymological information.

Chap 39 sums up the preceding chapters (good executive summary of sorts).

P3167. List of suggested readings.

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