The Secret Lives of Words

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Harcourt, 2000 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 296 pages
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We are often unaware of the unique and intriguing stories of the words we love. Thousands of our words have been so twisted, tangled, misused, and muddled over the centuries that their original meaning has been obscured. You'll be surprised to learn that table napkins were once made of and referred to as asbestos, that atom means uncuttable, that a cloud was once a hill, and that a companion is one who eats bread with you. Compiled over the years in his handwritten notebooks, acclaimed prose stylist Paul West offers us an album of treasures. The Secret Lives of Words is an "Antiques Road Show" of language, in which West chronicles the centuries-long travels of words across continents and through cultures. For word enthusiasts, speakers, writers, thinkers, and all readers, this volume recounting the intimate ancestry of language will enrich our understanding of and appreciation for the words we use every day.

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User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

This wonderfully curious and eclectic volume falls somewhere between a quirky dictionary and a romantic sonnet.Novelist West (The Dry Danube, p. 422, etc.) is irrevocably enamored with etymology, and ... Read full review

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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

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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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