New Words for Old by Caroline Taggart

newThis book is a celebration of the versatility of language: the neologisms and portmanteaus that have slipped into modern parlance. From the origins of the emoticon (in 1912, would you believe) to a glorious section on the symbolism of colours, it’s a lovely book to keep and dip into.

Did you know that ‘rock and roll’ is named after the motion of a ship? You roll one way and rock the other, which a chap thought would alliterate nicely in a song for a ship-based musical he was working on.

I had no idea that ‘zoom’ was an adjective, describing a humming noise, before becoming a verb in the late nineteenth century when cars and such came in and a word was needed to describe the way they flew by.

Nor did I know that ‘focus’ is Latin for ‘hearth’ or ‘fireplace’, which was the centre, the focus, of the household.

As you can see, I found this just the most interesting, absorbing thing. The joy of etymology is the mutability of language, and Caroline Taggart communicates this perfectly.

Are you a massive word nerd like me? Your best etymological discoveries in the comments please!


Filed under books, Reviews

4 responses to “New Words for Old by Caroline Taggart

  1. Oh but I *adore* this sort of thing! One of my favourites combines my interest in etymology with my interest in ancient mythology and folklore. I’m afraid I can’t give you a clue, because that is the very word: clue. It’s derived fromthe early English, “clew” which meant a ball of thread. To unravel its meaning requires a little knowledge of Classical mythology. It was the ball of thread Ariadne gave to Theseus which guided him safely out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur. By association, the word “clew” came to signify anything that offered a solution to a problem, a way out of the maze.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brian Artillery

    I love the sound of this book. I notice that on the cover, there is the dreaded word – ‘spam’. Long ago, when I thought this was just tinned meat, and the internet was an infant, a friend of mine, who used to work for a computer company, said that he “Kept getting spam”. He said that ‘spam’ was unwanted emails, etc. “Why spam?” I asked, and he replied that it was an acronym: Self Promoting Automatic Mail. Nothing to do with tinned meat, or Monty Python. I was quite disappointed, actually.


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