Inky Fool blogger Forsyth debuts with a breezy, amusing stroll through the uncommon histories of some common English words.
The British author settled on a clever device to arrange his material—the end of each entry provides a link to the beginning of the next. Forsyth is interested (obsessed?) with words—how they began and how they’ve journeyed to where they now are. He shows us the connection between sausage and Botox, how an expression like point-blank wandered into everyday usage from archery, that poppycock has a scatological history, that Thomas Crapper manufactured a popular brand of toilet, and how Thomas Edison was the first to use bug as a term for something causing a device to malfunction. Although he uses an informal, even snarky, Internet-appropriate style (“Protestants and Catholics got into an awful spat,” he writes of the Reformation), Forsyth carries more weight than his style sometimes suggests. He alludes periodically to Homer, Shakespeare and other literary heavyweights. He knows his history and geography; the style may be lighter-than-air, but the cargo is substantial. Some other goodies: The telephone popularized the word hello; Shell Oil was once in the seashell business; the Romans were the first to raise in derision the middle finger; bunk came from Buncombe, N.C.; Starbucks can be traced not just to Moby-Dick but to the Vikings’ word for a Yorkshire stream. Occasionally, the author missteps. He says that Noah Webster was “an immensely boring man,” a conclusion not supported by Joshua Kendall’s gracefully told The Forgotten Founding Father (2011).
Snack-food style blends with health-food substance for a most satisfying meal.