Category:Damian O'Brien

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This isn’t just another history of English, or a catalogue of etymologies. It explores some of the most obvious but unusual features of English, which are also some of the least understood by many of its speakers. These include:

  • If she works, why not she cans or she mights?
  • Why do patterns like drive, drove, driven exist?
  • Where did the l in could come from?
  • Why don’t we pronounce ght in words like eight and bought?
  • How can be, is, and was all be parts of one verb?
  • If goose, why gander?
  • If see, why saw?
  • Why does one sound like it starts with w?

Drawing on sources as diverse as Sanskrit grammatical treatises, the Bible in six ancient languages, an Anglo-Saxon monk’s survey of whelk-farming, Middle English allegory, Winston Churchill’s memoirs, and the lyrics of reggae legend Lee Scratch Perry, If Houses, Why Not Mouses? is etymology turbocharged and shows that there explanations for virtually everything. Readers who enjoy the unravelling of linguistic mysteries and tangled relationships between languages will find this an invaluable addition to their libraries.


Damian O'Brien was born in Cheshire and grew up in Buckinghamshire. After leaving school he raced cars and taught performance driving at racetracks including Silverstone and Le Mans. Inspired by a biography of Rasputin, he went to Siberia to spend a year in a remote city on the River Ob. On returning to England he went to Oxford University and read Sanskrit and Ancient Iranian at Harris Manchester College. He began writing If Houses Why Not Mouses? to while away hot evenings in the Libyan city of Sirte, where he worked prior to its destruction in the 2011 revolution. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and Iraq and now works in Somalia for the humanitarian demining charity The HALO Trust.

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