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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review: What's in a Word? Read it and find out!


I love words.

I love how the English language has so many words to describe a myriad of objects, thoughts and feelings.  I love how good authors can use the English language to create a "play on words", puns or subtle jokes that take the reader by surprise; I'm not talking highbrow academicians but folks like PG Wodehouse or GKChesterton.  I love to discover how words came to mean what they mean today ... often a very convoluted route that starts way back in ancient or medieval times.

Thus, I was delighted to see Webb Garrison's book, What's in a Word: Fascinating Stories of More than 350 Everyday Words and Phrases, republished this year by Thomas Nelson Publishers.   I wish the publishers had realized what a fun, oft-read book this will become -- they printed it on newsprint type pages that won't hold up to as much reading as we'll give this book.

Etymology, the study of word origins and meanings, is a fascinating topic.  Garrison says in the introduction that he was young when he first started his interest in and love of words and etymology; I was the same way -- it started when I was little (probably a result of my mom's interest in words).  One of my favorite professors in grad-school used to give us "cocktail tidbits" about words when he finished his econ lectures early.  I loved those tidbits and sought out more.  But the study of etymology can get a bit dry and boring; a bit more scientific than the tidbits shared by my prof.

Garrison's book succeeds in NOT being dry and boring; his book has wonderful one-or-two-paragraph explanations of words that we use everyday.  Words like "checkmate", "curfew", "lens" and "moccasin" are explained in a chatty, story-like format to ensure that the reader ENJOYS learning where these words originated.  Garrison also includes common phrases like "eleventh hour", "raising Cain", "on the spot" and "put on the dog", clearly and entertainingly elucidating their meanings and origins for the reader.

This would be a great book to give my 5th grade son as a break from his vocabulary work; or a high schooler when working on a paper; or even just to have lying about so that we can test each other's knowledge of words, learning a little bit in the process and enjoying the english language.

I love words. 



This book was received free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Sneeze program.  I was not required to write a favorable review nor was I given any payment other than a free copy of the book. All the comments above are my honest reaction to this book.

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