It's typical of me that, while the rest of the blogosphere is poring over Mark Forsyth's new book, The Horologicon, I've only just managed to get to grips with this, his first book about English words and their origins. I am going to try and get up to date soon, I promise!
Anyway, if I've been a little more insuffarable than usual lately you can lay the blame firmly at Mr Forsyth's door. This is one of those books that has umpteen fascinating facts on every single page, and it's almost impossible to stop yourself imparting them to friends and colleagues with a slightly smug look on your face. This week I informed my boss, who is from Venezuela, why his country is called Venezuela (that went down like a lead balloon), butted into a conversation about where the nearest petrol station was to enlighten my friends as to why the Shell oil company is so called, and felt the need to talk about the origin of the phrase "cold shoulder" when sitting down to a family meal. Yes, I've been a smug little know-it-all this week, and if you read this book, you will be too!
The Etymologicon is exactly what it says on the front cover - a circular stroll through the hidden connections of the English language. Starting with the word "book", Mark Forsyth simply rambles (in the nicest possible way) about where words come from and the ways they're connected to other words. The connections cross over chapters, and even go back to the beginning again when you reach the end, with "book". Anyone who loves words (and as you're reading a book blog, I'd say that's a given) will adore The Etymologicon.
Mark Forsyth's style of writing was a little odd - it reminded me of a children's TV presenter, and if the facts themselves hadn't been so very interesting I probably would have found it more annoying than I ultimately did. However, the slightly irritating style very much takes a back seat to the wordy goodness, and I guarantee you'll be exclaiming "oh, really?", "how interesting!" and "I never knew that!" at almost every page. You do find after reading this for a while that you start to think more about words and phrases in general and even take a stab at working out their origins yourself. The book even contains some fun quizzes at the back which I enjoyed for a bit of practice, though knowing Greek turned out to be a big help and I could have done with some Latin too.
The only trouble with a book that's so crammed with fascinating facts is that I just know I'm going to forget almost all of them alarmingly quickly. If only there was a way of making them stay put in my brain. I suspect the only way is to keep rereading The Etymologicon at regular intervals - fortunately that wouldn't be a hardship. Four stars.