Devious Derivations: Popular Misconceptions, and More Than 1,000 True Origins of Common Words and Phrases

Front Cover
Crown Publishers, 1994 - English language - 245 pages
In this new book, word maven Hugh Rawson brings you a marvelously entertaining roundup of 1,000 spurious etymologies, then enlightens you with their genuine counterparts. Some wiseacre (which, by the way, has nothing to do with land measure) may have told you that a tip is something you give a waiter "to insure promptness", or that James I once knighted a remarkable side of beef, saying, "Arise, Sir Loin", but like hundreds of oft-repeated accounts of word origins, they're just too good to be true. People, it seems, are etymologizing creatures, and if a certain lexical lineage is unclear, they are sure to invent one. If you hear that pumpernickel was named by Napoleon Bonaparte, who, upon being served the dark German bread, derided it as "pain pour Nicol" (bread for his horse, Nicol), you can take it with a grain of salt (which since 1647 has been making questionable tales, like questionable meat, more palatable). With his third book, Hugh Rawson pulls off the literary equivalent of a hat trick (which is original not to ice hockey, it turns out, but to cricket).

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

Devious derivations: popular misconceptions--and more than 1, 000 true origins of common words and phrases

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

If William Safire and David Letterman ever collaborate on a book about words, this could be their model. Beginning with adulteress (erroneously attributed to an au pair who called grown men "adults ... Read full review


Section 1
Section 2
Section 3

24 other sections not shown

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (1994)

Hugh Rawson is the author of Wicked Words and A Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk. He is a member of The Authors Guild, and is Director of Penguin Reference Books.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Bibliographic information