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 passionately and excitedly in love with a something, he wants to share it with everyone.

Being dyslexic, words and I have had a rocky and somewhat adversarial history. Because 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 now realise this was a mistake.

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

The joy of The Etymologicon is the sense that you are never sure where you will be swept off to next. Expressions you have been using your entire life, and never really understood, will 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 Starbucks the american coffee chain got to do with Moby Dick, Vikings, and a small and rather insignificant 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 starting point of the next chapter. Initially published in 2011, The Etymologicon is easy to read and had to put down; the short nature of each vignette makes it a brilliant book to get through in small pieces and a fantastic place to start if you aren’t used to non-fiction reading, or have been put off by overly “academic” writing. Much of the book was initially published on Forsyth's blog, the 'Inky Fool' ( and can still read there today if you want to get a sense of what you are in for.

Much of what you will find in The Etymologicon is ‘quickly delivered and slowly forgotten’; which is, incidentally, how Forsyth opens a paragraph on flatulence.