25 June 2012

Where Our Words Come From

Trade paperback, 180 pages
Published 2007
Acquired December 2007

Read May 2012
The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Words
by Anu Garg

This book is essentially a collection of etymological trivia, each chapter presenting a group of word origins on a common theme. For example, one is about words to do with food, another words named after fictional characters, another just about words derived from Dickens characters!  It's a decent little book, with some good information, and some forgettable stuff.  By far my favorite word origin was that of the titular dord, which meant "density"... just from 1934 to 1939.  Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation. (To my disappointment, I couldn't find anything in Google Books from the period where someone actually used dord.) Esquivalience also has a pretty good origin, too.

The book has its annoying tics. The footers all have "word puzzles" in them, with questions like "What words begin and end with the letters und?"  They're okay, mostly forgettable, but some got on my nerves.  Especially one where the question was merely "How are legislators like allegorists?"; the answer is that they're anagrams, a lame puzzle that tells you nothing clever about either word.  Even worse is the fact that "anagram" isn't defined until a puzzle that comes fifteen pages later!

The book feels like it comes from the 1990s sometimes, with a lot of Bill Gates jokes. And Garg is the only person I've ever heard claim that google has become a generic synonym for "to search"-- not Internet search, but as in the usage "I googled my keys." Has anyone ever really said that?  Also, he seems to think that the Romans, led by Julius Caesar, once declared war on Pompeii!

Those quibbles aside, this was a decent, light read.  I'm going to be trotting out that dord anecdote for years to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment