The Hidden Power of Words: Book Review of “The Etymologicon”

posted in: Book Reviews, Language 0

The Hidden Power of Words series takes a look at the language origins of frequently used words across the subjects of organizing, time management and productivity. There’s quite a lot of hidden history (and fascinating order) when it comes to the words we use in today’s day and age!

Full disclosure: I do not receive any compensation, financial or otherwise, in any shape, form, type, or sort for using, reviewing, or mentioning The Etymologicon in this post. 

As you may know, I’m a fan of etymology. When I came across Mark Forsyth’s The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, in the bookstore, I literally grabbed it up with excited delight. An organized book on etymology? I was in heaven.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I approach my jaunts in etymology by focusing on words related to the subjects of organizing, time management and productivity. Mr. Forsyth’s book (which has origins in the blog, The Inky Fool) does me one better by telling a clever tale of word origins starting with a single word and sequentially linking different words to that first word. It’s an interesting and well-organized read.

I read the book over the course of several days and weeks, taking in new knowledge of etymology in small doses. I did try to read several chapters consecutively, but I personally found this process to be quite taxing; there is a lot of information presented in each and every chapter. I found it far more interesting (and satisfying) to finish a chapter up to the cliffhanger ending and then pick up the next chapter the following day. As the author mentions in the preface, it is helpful to be able to turn on and turn off the etymology spigot as necessary.

What types of wonderful information will you learn from reading The Etymologicon? You’ll learn about insulting foods or ‘humble pie’ (pgs. 46-47), to the origins of the bathing suit ‘bikini’ (pgs. 203-204), to why we call those birds we eat at Thanksgiving ‘turkey’ (pgs. 43-46). Some of my favorite chapters include the origins of the word ‘pool’ as relates to money in gambling (second chapter, “A Game of Chicken”), ‘buffalo’ and of course ‘organic,’ ‘organised’ (that’s the British spelling, folks) and ‘organs.’

Think a book on word origins will be boring and bland? Trust me, you are in for a surprise! The book is riddled with copious tales of intrigue, deception, murder, crime, villainy, romance, happiness, sadness, disease, war, famine, profanities, insults and many more things that do not make this book not for the squeamish (don’t say I didn’t warn you). Who said words and their origins are all clean and compact? For some odd reason it appears the more plain the word, the more devious and diabolical it’s origins.

If you’re a fan of etymology, history, knowledge in general and love to see how things are connected and intertwined in this world of ours, you’ll thoroughly enjoy The Etymologicon. Don’t forget to check out the quiz section at the back of the book, which challenges and taxes your etymological knowledge to the limit.

Finally, a word to the socially savvy: if you’re going to read the book and want to talk about it to others, you’ll probably want to practice reciting the book’s title at home. You’ll need at least a couple of tries to have the aptly named book roll smoothly and sonorously off the tip of your tongue. Matter of fact, you can give it a shot now: eh-ti-mo-law-gih-con.

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language
By Mark Forsyth
Berkeley Books, New York, 2011

Now to you…think you’ll check out The Etymologicon or The Inky Fool? Leave a comment below and join the conversation! 

Full disclosure: I do not receive any compensation, financial or otherwise, in any shape, form, type, or sort for using, reviewing, or mentioning The Etymologicon in this post. 

Last updated January 25, 2021

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Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant who helps people get organized so they can stress less, have more fun, and be happier at home. Her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 10 Simple Ways to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective, by clicking here.
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