THE BEGINNING OF WORDS: How English Grew by Colin & Laurence Meynell Pickles


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No index and no bibliography, only a list (without so much as page numbers) of the contents -- which are devil-may-carelessly classified into 17 unparallel chapters, themselves internally disparate. Under Norman influences, for instance, comes Parlour complete with its cultural and linguistic root, and Castle with nothing more than an extended definition -- ""The Normans built many castles in England.... These castles had moats around them, and high battlements..."". Re the old French motto 'Honi soit qui mal y pense': ""people very often translate this as 'evil be to him who evil thinks.' But this is wrong. Get out your French dictionary and work out the right translation."" In the utterly wasted Shakespeare unit there appear five words (with annotations) that he ""introduced into English"" -- alligator, hurricane, paragon, sonnet, and cannibal -- and six phrases (e.g., ""'to screw one's courage to the sticking point' "") with another unlikely challenge: ""Write them clown and opposite each one your explanation...and then see if you can find it in Shakespeare's plays"" (the titles alone are provided). Both the quality and quantity of data vary similarly in the potpourri that follows: Picturesque, Time, Space, Proper Names, Occupational Names, and Means of Transport (""You may like to invent a transporter of the future and a name for it""). By way of conclusion, two pages on Word Making describe the anagram, the palindrome, and the word ladder (dog/dot/hot/ hat/cat), and by way of visual aid, high-color scenes 'explicate' the text (""You can see a picture of a Viking raid on page 15""). As word books go, catalogues are perhaps the least instructive and as catalogues go, this one is among the least productive; to borrow one of the typical locutions that condescends as it commands -- see if you can find a more even and meaningful introduction (like Nurnberg's Wonders in Words, 1968).

Pub Date: July 1st, 1971
Publisher: Putnam