The Accidental Dictionary by Paul Anthony Jones

four dragons

I’ll admit I did not read the full etymology for every word in The Accidental Dictionary: The Remarkable Twists and Turns of English Words, but I did read what each word used to be. My husband and I are intrigued by how words change meaning over time and through people. We took a class together about Old English and learned so much about our own language. English is predominately French and Latin (about 28% each depending on the survey).

We learned about folk etymology which is when a word is changed basically due to a lack of knowledge amongst the people adopting it. Calling Koreans “gooks” is a folk etymology of migug which is the Korean word for American. Americans being oh so intelligent thought the Koreans were saying “me gook” as in “I’m a gook” when they were literally asking if the soldiers were Americans. Awkward.

One of the most entertaining things I learned was that we may all be wrong about abracadabra. You know, the word magicians use when performing a trick to seem like they’re casting a spell or some such nonsense. However, based on an exceptionally old manuscript the word may actually have been abracadaRBa. That’s right, the r comes before the b rather than after. Of course, it is possible that the person who initially wrote it down did so incorrectly but because it was literally this person’s job to get this down right it is more likely that someone reading it later misread it. We’ll never know for absolute certain.

I have two favorite words I learned about from this book. The first is naughty. Which originally meant to have naught. This makes much more sense based on the word than to be difficult or dirty as it means now.

Another word group I enjoyed learning about was the heartache, heartburn, and lust trio. Originally heartache meant heartburn and heartburn meant lust. It’s funny to imagine Mr. Darcy talking about his heartburn and Mr. Bennett about his heartache.

Recommended for everyone who loves to learn about how words have changed throughout the years. It strikes me as a great coffee table book especially if you have friends who also enjoy words.

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