The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language

Love is infectious. When you meet someone who truly and honestly loves something, it's almost impossible for a little of that love not to get passed on. Mark Forsyth loves Etymology; the study of the origin of words and how their meanings have changed throughout history. And like anyone passionate and excitedly in love with a subject, he wants to share it with everyone.

Being dyslexic, words and I have had a rocky and somewhat adversarial history. As a consequence of this, the idea of finding enjoyment in learning about the history and nature of these trixy, irrational man-made bastards would never have occurred to me. But thanks to Mark Forsyth, I realise this was a mistake.

The Etymologicon is like meeting a fascinating stranger in the pub, of the sort you meet all too infrequently. One who wants to talk about their favourite subject; one they are deeply passionate about and to whom you unexpectedly find you want to keep listening.

With humour and charm, Forsyth will take you on a fascinating meandering tour through literature, history, society and culture. In his hand's simple everyday words and phrases become portals through which we can glimpse unexpected origins and hidden histories all delivered in plain English.

One of the joys of The Etymologicon is the sense that you are never sure where you will be swept off to next. Expressions you have perhaps been using your whole life, and never really thought about how little sense they make, will suddenly blossom into fascinating peeks into culture and civilisation.

Why do we 'let the cat out of the bag'? For that matter, how much space is needed 'to swing a cat'? Why do we 'pool our money' is that anything to do with a swimming pool? What has the Starbucks company name got to do with Moby Dick, Vikings and a small stream in England? Why do we shoot at 'point-blank range', what's the recipe for 'humble pie' or the 'Proof of the pudding.'

Each eloquent description inevitably arrives upon some new word or phrase; that will become the genesis of our next tale. Easy to read, and had to put down the short nature of each vignette makes it a great book to get through in small pieces. Indeed, much of the book was initially published on Forsyth's blog the 'Inky Fool' ( and can still read there today.

Initially published in 2011, The Etymologicon is a fantastic place to start if you aren't used to non-fiction reading, especially about "academic" subjects. Much of what you will find in The Etymologicon is quickly delivered and slowly forgotten; which incidentally is how Forsyth opens a paragraph on the topic of flatulence.