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Dictionary of Word Origins by Linda Flavell

Dictionary of Word Origins (1995)

by Linda Flavell, Roger Flavell

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10. Dictionary of Word Origins by Linda Flavell & Roger Flavell
published: 1994, revised 2010
format: Trade Paperback
acquired: in 2012, used
read: roughly Sep 1, 2015 - Feb 23, 2016
Rating: 4 stars

This was just really well done. I mean, it's a quirky kind a thing. There aren't enough words for this to work as a really usable reference dictionary. So, it must be meant to read it through. But does one really read a dictionary through? Seems a bit odd.

"Odd is a strange word. Its sense 'not even' derives from Old Norse oddi, which means 'point, triangle'..."

The Flavell's selected about 1000(?) words with interesting etymologies, and then include full entries for maybe half of them. They give each headword a little summary of its history. The entries includes a simple definition, followed by a few quotations, then a prose etymology, and then brief notes on various related words.

"The Roman sailors coined the adjective opportunus, 'blowing in the direction of the harbour' (from ob-, 'to' and portus, 'harbour') to describe favorable winds with arose at the right time. Soon this particular application broadened to give the general sense of 'seasonable, timely, convenient'."

So, how does one read a dictionary? Well, first, to its credit, it's a nicely designed volume that is pretty to look at and pleasant to hold. It makes you want to read it. The way I did it was to read a handful of words at a sitting. So it took me a long time. But yet I always found the first word absolutely fascinating. The second word would drag in the quotations a bit. And that is one complaint. The quotations hinder the reading flow...and, as chosen, they don't really add much. But they are not the point.

"The word for a book roll (a scroll) was volumen, a derivative of volvere, 'to roll'. It was borrowed into Middle English by way of Old French volume in the fourteenth century..."


"It is thought that early inscriptions among German tribes were scratched upon beechwood tablets, or that the bark of beechwood was used, since the unattested proto-Germanic words for book and beech appear to be connected..." (boks=book, boka=beech)

But the overall affect was really terrific. I always looked forward to picking this up for a new word. I would even read this book out loud to my wife, who actually found it this stuff fascinating too. So, I really enjoyed this book in bits and pieces, and I'm sad to have finished it. ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Feb 24, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Linda Flavellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Flavell, Rogermain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0756757134, Paperback)

Aimed at both word-puzzle enthusiasts and language students, this is a companion to "Dictionary of Idioms" and "Dictionary of Proverbs", and is by the same authors. It contains over 500 entries on common words ("boycott", "tawdry", "candidate"), their origins and their histories, and many other words are detailed in cross-references. In some instances the development of the word is illustrated with tree-diagrams showing its progress - for example, from Greek to Latin to Old French to English. The diagrams also highlight those offshoots which developed into other, often seemingly unconnected words. Throughout the book there are mini-essays on general topics, including sources, derivations and common themes such as words for plants, or for cloth.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:08 -0400)

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