Mark Forsyth has vindicated word nerds the world over with these two books. Far from being dry reference books, Forsyth brings the dead back to life by digging up the circuitous history of the words we use every day.
The Horologicon arranges the entries around the hours of the day. The chapters include Commute, The Morning Meeting, Looking as Through You’re Working, Tea, After Work, and Stumbling Home. As a reader, you discover such useful words as pogonip, which is a fog so cold that it freezes in the air.
Actual pogonips are quite rare as air needs to get down to about -40°C before the water in it crystallises, but reality should never get in the way of talking about the weather. Real pogonips tend to be very localised affairs, occurring in deep Alaskan valley and the liks, so you can always claim that there was a sudden pogonip on your street, and nobody will be any the wiser.
Non-Alaskan commuters are much more likely to find the weather swale. Swale is recorded in the indispensable “A Collection of English Words, not generally used (1674)” where it is defined as:
Swale: Windy, cold, bleak. ~Pg. 43-4
And as a theic (one who is addicted to tea) myself, I loved the chapter dedicated to archaic terms about the restoring drink.
In The Etymologicon, Forsyth eschews any semblance of structure. Instead he embarks in a loosely-related, wandering thoughts. The books follows one definition and background leads to another — all with Forsyth’s witty observations.
He begins with the poet Milton, who invented the word “etymologicon”, also invented a vast number of other words.
When he couldn’t find the right term, he just made one up: impassive, obtrusive, jubilant, loquacious, unconvincing, Satanic, persona, fragrance, beleaguered, sensuous, undesirable, disregard, damp, criticise, irresponsible, lovelorn, exhilarating, sectarian, unaccountable, incidental, and cooking. All Milton’s. When it came to inventive wording, Milton actually invented the word wording.
Awe-struck? He invented that one too, along with stunning and terrific.
And, because he was a Puritan, he invented words for all the fun things of which he disapproved. Without dear old Milton we would have no debauchery, no depravity, no extravagance, in fact nothing enjoyable at all. ~Pg. 14
What it boils down to is that these books are plain fun. I highly recommend them for anyone who love words, reading, languages, history, or just fun trivia. And if these books aren’t enough to slake your thirst, Forysth also runs the very popular Inky Fool blog.
Lastly, I must thank Henry with Icon Books for sending me these review copies. They have several interesting titles that I look forward to reading and reviewing here in the future.
The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language (PAPERBACK)
UK £8.99,Canada $17.99,
UK Publication June 2013
Page Extent 288
The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language (HARDBACK)
UK Publication November 2012
Page Extent 256 pages