Mark Forsyth writes the Inky Fool blog (http://blog.inkyfool.com/) and has done so since 2009. He is a word nerd of superpower status, as readers can confirm for themselves by checking out the blog or this book. Some of the material from the blog is used in the book, but most of it, he says, is new. And if you like words and uncovering the hidden etymological connections between seemingly diverse words, you will thoroughly enjoy this book, as I did.
Here’s a sample: “A chap once asked me where the word biscuit came from. . . . I explained to him that a biscuit is cooked twice, or in French bi-cuit, and he thanked me for that. So I added that the bi in biscuit is the same bi that you get in bicycle and bisexual, to which he nodded. And then, just because it occurred to me, I told him that the word bisexual wasn’t invented until the 1890s and that it was coined by a psychiatrist called Richard von Krafft-Ebing and did he know that Ebbing also invented the word masochism?” Now that’s from the preface and is an early demonstration of the circularity of Forsyth’s circular stroll through the hidden connections, as promised in the sub-title.
So, because the book is 279 pages, there is more, lots more. Here is part of Forsyth’s riff on the Greek word genos, which fellow word nerds know is Greek for birth. “It’s the root that you find in generation, regeneration and degeneration; and along with its Latin cousin genus it’s scattered generously throughout the English language, often in places where you wouldn’t expect it.” Like generous, for example. Seems aristocrats were once seen as open-handed because they were “well-born.” Then there are other connections: gentleman, gentle, maybe gin, oxygen and hydrogen. You’ll have to look those up for yourself.
From there, as is his custom, Forsyth segues to a related word. In this case, gonads and testicles.
I could go on and on, and Forsyth, of course, does, writing with great learning and great good humor. The book is scarcely the kind of thing you’d sit down and read straight through, but it is good bedside book, something to dip into for a half and hour or hour before sleep closes your eyes. But don’t be surprised if he keeps you up later than you expected.