TENDERFEET AND LADYFINGERS: A Visceral Approach to Words and Their Origins by Susan Kelz Sperling

TENDERFEET AND LADYFINGERS: A Visceral Approach to Words and Their Origins

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Imagining Marc Antony's request being taken too literally and resulting in his being plied with a surfeit of ears made me conscious of the constant interplay between our bodies and our language."" Thus inspired, Sperling has chosen about 200 idioms, epithets, and expressions derived from parts of the human anatomy, has arranged them mostly by body placement (""The Head,"" ""From Neck to Knuckles,"" ""The Torso,"" ""From Leg to Toe""), and has fitted them all out with informal etymologies. Not included are the most obviously explained phrases (elbowroom, tongue-lashing). But etymologically inclined browsers will learn the grisly origin of ""pay through the nose"" or the brutal derivation of ""kowtow"" (Chinese for ""knock the head""), along with examples of early literary uses of body-derived expressions by Jonson, Shakespeare, the Bible, etc. Sperling is no humorist; her comments on contemporary usage sometimes seem incomplete and flavorless (""kneejerk response"" is ""a slavish act done without thinking""); and the organization isn't quite logical enough to make for easy reference (you'll find ""heel"" not in the foot section but in a section Called ""names to call people""). But this is modestly intriguing thumb-through material for word-lovers, especially since Sperling spares us the cutesiness so often found in word-books and maintains a nice sense of decorum. . . even when giving a good graphic idea of the derivation of ""brown-noser.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1981
Publisher: Viking