WORDS by Jane Sarnoff


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In the first five pages of this unprepossessing introduction to etymology, the authors reduce some often dry material--the early history of the English language--to brisk essentials. A few oversimplifications intrude, but the wider appeal could be seen as a net gain. The rest is a sort of quirky list of words, quirkily arranged by category--from standard food, family, and clothing terms to others dealing with monsters, crimes, or ships at sea. In this last section we learn that ""posh"" was used in the English language before travel to India would call for tickets stamped Port Over Starboard Home, the common explanation. Topic selection is made on a lowest-common denominator basis, with lots of words for silly, but bits of language his* tory emerge, as in the paragraphs explaining why our pig, sheep, and cow are Anglo-Saxon words but our pork, mutton, and beef from the French. (More currently, we also learn why the baseball team was called the Dodgers.) The Sarnoffs--authors of calendars, riddle books, and other frivolities--offer limited inspiration for intellectual exploration here; but the painless browsers' format will capture readers who aren't especially word-oriented.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1982
Publisher: Scribners