The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth

13542593Title: The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language
Author: Mark Forsyth
Pages: 304
Year: 2012
Publisher: Berkley (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 months, 4 weeks
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads: Do you know why…a mortgage is literally a death pledge? …why guns have girls’ names? …why salt is related to soldier? You’re about to find out… The Etymologicon (e-t?-‘mä-lä-ji-kän) is: Witty (wi-te\): Full of clever humor, Erudite (er-?-dit): Showing knowledge, Ribald (ri-b?ld): Crude, offensive. The Etymologicon is a completely unauthorized guide to the strange underpinnings of the English language. It explains: how you get from “gruntled” to “disgruntled”; why you are absolutely right to believe that your meager salary barely covers “money for salt”; how the biggest chain of coffee shops in the world (hint: Seattle) connects to whaling in Nantucket; and what precisely the Rolling Stones have to do with gardening.

I bought this book years ago, and I think I put off reading it because I knew it was going to be amazing and I knew I was never going to remember anything I read in it. I’m obsessed with words and fun facts, and this is the best book for fun word facts, but I struggle with my memory, especially when it comes to reading. It happens with fiction too–I can’t remember even just the basic plots of books I’ve read more than once. So I felt sad going into this book because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold onto anything in it. But I tried to write down a lot of the facts I found to be most interesting though, which has helped, and I do plan to read it a few more times to try to solidify the information in my brain a little bit more.

My favorite fact was the one about Starbucks, because ya girl has been a Starbucks barista since 2013, and I love working there (even though after every double shift I feel like it’s taking a couple years off my lifespan). Every barista knows that the Starbucks logo is a siren, and every English major knows the name comes from Mr. Starbuck in Moby Dick. However, only those who read this book will learn of the Vikings in the year 793 and the sedge stream they found and Old Norse and how that led to the Starbuck family and their whaling achievements and a teacher in Seattle who wanted to start his own coffee shop called Pequod. Truly fascinating stuff.

The book starts off with the origin of the word “book,” and, as this is a “circular stroll,” it ends with the origin of the word “book” too. I was nearing the end of The Etymologicon this morning, and my sister was peering at the front cover. Once I realized that we had come full circle and were back at the beginning, I said, “Dang!” and she said, “Isn’t this non-fiction? How can non-fiction be ‘dang’?” Because language is amazing, that’s how. Even if you’re not a word nerd like me, this is a great read for sure.


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