Etymologicon & Story English In 100 Word

English is a wonderful, but infamously tricksy, thing. These two gripping reads will shed some light on just why this is, in an amusing, thought-provoking and enlightening way. Let Mark Forsyth take you on a tour of the secret labyrinth that lurks beneath the English language that takes in monks and monkeys, film buffs and buffaloes, the Rolling Stones and gardening in The Etymologicon. Join David Crystal as he tells The Story of English in 100 Words, drawing on the words that best illustrate the huge variety of sources, influences and events that have helped to shape our vernacular since the first definitively English word was written down in the fifth century (‘roe’, in case you are wondering).

Above all, rejoice in discovering a little more about the secrets behind the world’s most ubiquitous language.

‘I’m hooked on Forsyth’s book … Crikey, but this is addictive’ – Mathew Parris, The Times, October 13

‘One of the books of the year. It is too enjoyable for words.’ – Henry Coningsby, Bookseller

‘The Etymologicon, contains fascinating facts’ – Daily Mail, October 24

‘Kudos should go to Mark Forsyth, author of The Etymologicon … Clearly a man who knows his onions, Mr Forsyth must have worked 19 to the dozen, spotting red herrings and unravelling inkhorn terms, to bestow this boon – a work of the first water, to coin a phrase.’ – Daily Telegraph

‘The stocking filler of the season… How else to describe a book that explains the connection between Dom Pérignon and Mein Kampf, ‘ – Robert McCrum, The Observer

‘A perfect bit of stocking filler for the bookish member of the family, or just a cracking all-year-round-read. Highly recommended.’
– Matthew Richardson, The Spectator, 15 Nov

Available at

Omniglot – An encyclopedia of writing systems and languages.

Omniglot was set up in 1998 by Simon Ager who has been maintaining and developing the site since then.

It contains:
-Details of more than 180 writing systems, including Abjads, Alphabets, Abugidas, Syllabaries and Semanto-phonetic scripts
-Information about over 500 languages
-More than 300 con-scripts
-Writings systems invented by visitors of the site
-Tips on learning languages
-Language-related articles
-Useful foreign phrases in more than 150 languages with quite a few audio recordings
-Texts, language names, country names, colours and songs in many languages
-A language book store
-Links to language-related resources

You can find a guide to the contents of Omniglot on the sitemap, and a list of all the writing systems and languages featured on the site in the A-Z index.

Online dictionaries: which is best?

The Guardian: “The new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will be online-only. Many of its rivals – Collins, Chambers et al – have already launched free web versions. But which one is the wordsmith’s best friend?

Sad news for those of us with fond memories of long minutes lost in the more arcane histories of English words: the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which a team of 80 lexicographers has been working on since 1989, will probably never be printed. “The print dictionary market is just disappearing,” Oxford University Press CEO Nigel Portwood told a Sunday newspaper. It will still be available online – in fact, in December, the web version is being relaunched, including for the first time the historical thesaurus of the OED, which contains almost every word in English from Old English to the present. The problem is that it is a tad pricey: £7 plus VAT for a week’s access; £205 plus VAT for a year. Luckily, there are alternatives.”

Brush Up On Your 17th-century Slang

Neatorama: “The Bodleian Library is publishing a new edition of the first English language dictionary of slang, which has been out of print for 300 years.

Originally entitled A New Dictionary of Terms, Ancient and Modern, of the Canting Crew, its aim was to educate the polite London classes in ‘canting’ – the language of thieves and ruffians – should they be unlucky enough to wander into the ‘wrong’ parts of town.

With over 4,000 entries, the dictionary contains many words which are now part of everyday parlance, such as ‘Chitchat’ and ‘Eyesore’ as well as a great many which have become obsolete, such as the delightful ‘Dandyprat’ and ‘Fizzle’.

Here are some examples to whet your appetite:
Cackling-farts, c. Eggs.
Farting-crackers, c. Breeches.
Grumbletonians, Malecontents, out of Humour with the Government, for want of a Place, or having lost one.
Mutton-in-long-coats, Women. A Leg of Mutton in a Silk-Stocking, a Woman’s Leg.

You can view the definitions of Arsworm, Bumfodder, Dandyprat, Humptey-Dumptey, and many more at the Bodleian Library link.


Link of the day – Linguee

Today I was translating the press release for a book on the German fantasy pioneer Alexander Moritz Frey. Frey spent time on the front in World War I with Hitler, and one particular word that was giving me trouble was the position in the army that Hitler held upon enrollment – in German ‘Meldegänger’. On this occasion neither my standard book sources nor my favorite online dictionary were of much assistance, so I checked his Wikipedia entries in both German and English to see whether they could give me any leads. A quick inspection of the relevant Wikipedia pages suggested to me that the word ‘Runner’ might be the appropriate translation, but I couldn’t just jump ahead and use that without any further confirmation. I googled a little more and found this great website –  It searches through bilingual German – English translations available on the web and pulls them up together with the reference sites. Each entry includes sentences with your target words for comparison, together with accuracy ratings. I found a number of credible sources that also used ‘Runner’ as the translation for ‘Meldegänger’ and was thrilled to be able to proceed with the translation without incident. Well worth a look if you are serious about German – English translation and a hell of a lot more useful than Google Translate! Check it out!