Words of a Feather by Graeme Donald

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Words of a Feather by Graeme Donald

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Buy Words of a Feather by Graeme Donald at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Reference
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Liz Green
Reviewed by Liz Green
Summary: A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at apparently unrelated words
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: November 2015
Publisher: Metro Books
ISBN: 978-1784188146

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Words of a Feather. The title alone suggests an engaging read about language, and the book certainly delivers. It pairs seemingly unrelated words, digs up their etymological roots and reveals their common ancestry. The English language, of course, provides rich pickings indeed for a book of this type and it is fascinating to see the hidden meaning behind common and not-so-common words. Some connections are fairly obvious once you read them. For example, the link between grotto and grotesque is easy to grasp: the word grotesque derives from unpleasant figures depicted in murals in Ancient Roman grottoes. Other connections are just extraordinary, like the so-crazy-you-couldn't-make-it-up link between furnace and fornicate. These two words date back to Ancient Rome when prostitutes took over the city's abandoned baking domes. And some connections are more than a little tenuous, seemingly just a collection of words banded together, as is the case with the insult and salmon pairing. One of my personal favourites: the Italian word schiavo for slave was used to summon or dismiss a slave; this word became corrupted to ciao, a word the more well-heeled among us use instead of goodbye.

Graeme Donald has certainly done his research although it has to be said that etymology is not always an exact science and there are bound to be entries that other wordsmiths will challenge (such as limelight/lemon sole). But while some of the links may seem open to debate, the entries are written in such an engaging way, peppered with wonderful historical snippets, that the book is a joy to read for the writing alone. It would have been nice if there had been some sort of a thread weaving all the entries together (to be fair, that is possibly easier said than done). As it is, this reads more like a very selective dictionary and is thus more of a book to dip into rather than to read in one great gulp -- one for the bedside table.

This is a great little book. You might think it a bit extravagant to buy for yourself, although we should all treat ourselves occasionally... Alternatively, it would make a perfect present for that wordsmith friend of yours -- and you can always ask to borrow it.

For more English etymological fun, try The Story Of English In 100 Words by David Crystal. Or for more from the same author, this time taking a quirky approach to science, have a look at When the Earth Was Flat by Graeme Donald.

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Buy Words of a Feather by Graeme Donald at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Words of a Feather by Graeme Donald at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Words of a Feather by Graeme Donald at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Words of a Feather by Graeme Donald at Amazon.com.


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