Port Out, Starboard Home: The Fascinating Stories We Tell About the words We Use

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Penguin UK, Sep 1, 2005 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 304 pages
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Can it really be true that 'golf' stands for 'Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden'? Or that 'rule of thumb' comes from an archaic legal principle that a man may chastise his wife, but only with a rod no thicker than his thumb?

These and hundreds of other stories are commonly told and retold whenever people meet. They grow up in part because expressions are often genuinely mysterious. Why, for example, are satisfying meals 'square' rather than any other shape? And how did anyone ever come up with the idea that if you're competent at something you can 'cut the mustard'?

Michael Quinion here retells many of the more bizarre tales, and explains their real origins where they're known. This is a fascinating treasure-trove of fiction and fact for anyone interested in language.


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Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds: Ingenious Tales of Words and Their Origins

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Folk etymology, namely, stories describing word origins, takes the stage as Quinion narrates and evaluates competing explanations of a word's or phrase's evolution. A contributor to the venerable OED ... Read full review


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About the author (2005)

Michael Quinion has contributed to the Oxford Dictionary of New Words (2nd edition), edited the weekly Daily Telegraph new words column, and is author of a dictionary of affixes, Ologies and Isms (OUP). He has made countless contributions to the OED. Since 1996 he has produced the weekly e-newsletter World Wide Words, which has an associated website. He lives in Bristol.

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