The Secret Lives of Words

Front Cover
Harcourt, 2000 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 296 pages
2 Reviews
Word enthusiasts will find trivia and treasure" (Kirkus Reviews) in this collection of unusual etymologies authored by an unmatched prose stylist and fabulous wordsmith.

Over the centuries, thousands of our words have been so twisted, tangled, misused, and muddled that their original meanings have been obscured. You'll be surprised to learn that table napkins were once made of and referred to as asbestos, a cloud was once a hill, and lasagna could be

literally translated as chamberpot pasta. In The Secret Lives of Words, acclaimed author and stylist Paul West fulfills a personal odyssey to seek out the elusive roots of these and a few hundred other of his favorite words, from abracadabra to zoot suit. Derived from handwritten notebooks, West chronicles the tortuous travels of words across continents and through cultures in this Antiques Road Show approach to etymology. A delight in both form and content, West's collection will capture the attention of word enthusiasts, speakers, writers, thinkers, and readers around the globe.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - raizel - LibraryThing

I've skimmed this book and it looks interesting. It is a list of words with comments about their origins and use. And in his explanations of the first and last words (abacus and zymurgist), he goes from dust to dust. Read full review

Review: The Secret Lives of Words

User Review  - Marianna Monaco - Goodreads

An interesting exploration the the mind of Paul West, and the words he chooses to write about, and the histories (personal and otherwise) and meanings he gives them. Read full review

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About the author (2000)

Paul West has taught at Brown University, Cornell University, and the University of Arizona.

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