Word Origins...And How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, Mar 16, 2009 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 325 pages
5 Reviews
If you've ever read the history of a word like "silly" and wondered how the author knew that it meant "blessed" in the eleventh century, this is the book for you. Written in a funny, charming, and conversational style, Word Origins is the first book to offer a thorough investigation of the history and the science of etymology, making this little-known field accessible to everyone interested in the history of words. Anatoly Liberman, an internationally acclaimed etymologist, takes the reader by the hand and explains the many ways that English words can be made, and the many ways in which etymologists try to unearth the origins of words. Every chapter is packed with dozens of examples of proven word histories, used to illustrate the correct ways to trace the origins of words - as well as some of the egregiously bad ways to trace them. He not only tells the known origins of hundreds of words, but also shows how their origins were determined. And along the way, the reader is treated to a wealth of fascinating word facts. Did they once have "bells" in a "belfry"? No, the original meaning of "belfry" was "siege tower." Are the words "isle" and "island," "raven" and "ravenous," or "pan" and "pantry" related etymologically? No, though they look strikingly similar, these words came to English via different routes. "Millions of people want to know the origin of the words they use. Word columns in daily newspapers and numerous books attempt to satisfy their curiosity. Word histories are usually digested like pills: the user is interested in getting well, not in the chemistry of the prescribed medication. Those who send letters to the Editor also want a straight answer without bothering about how "editors" come by their knowledge. Therefore, they fail to realize that etymologies are seldom definitive and that the science of etymology is intensely interesting. Perhaps if someone explained to them that, compared to the drama of words, Hamlet is a light farce, they might develop a more informed attitude toward philological research and become students of historical linguistics rather than gullible consumers of journalists' pap." -Anatoly Liberman Partly a history, partly a how-to, and completely entertaining, Word Origins invites readers behind the scenes to watch an etymologist at work.
  

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Review: Word Origins ... and How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone

User Review  - Volsung - Goodreads

Very highly recommended; to have such an expert in the field write such readable, witty prose is really exceptional. (In other words, it's enjoyable, approachable, /and/ accurate.) Read full review

Review: Word Origins ... and How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone

User Review  - Mary - Goodreads

One of my sisters gave me this book as a gift. It took me quite a while to read this; I enjoyed it; the author has a quirky sense of humor; it's a bit too much detail for me in some places Read full review

Contents

The Object of Etymology
1
The Thing and the Sign
7
Sound Imitative Words
16
Sound Symbolism
29
Folk Etymology
45
Words Based on Reduplication
55
Infixation
65
Disguised Compounds
75
A Retrospect The Methods of Etymology
158
Sound Laws
168
Change of Meaning in Language History
192
The Origin of the Earliest Words and Ancient Roots
219
The State of English Etymology
239
Conclusion
253
Notes
256
Index of English Words
298

Suffixes Prefixes Misdivision and Blends
88
Words and Names
107
Coinages by Known Individuals
127
Borrowed Words
136

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2009)


Anatoly Liberman is Professor of the Humanities at the University of Minnesota. For the past seventeen years, he has been working on a new etymological dictionary of English.

Bibliographic information