The Accidental Dictionary

The Accidental Dictionary : The Remarkable Twists and Turns of English Words

3.69 (177 ratings by Goodreads)
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How well do you know your words?

Buxom used to mean obedient
A cloud was a rock
Raunchy originally meant dirty

Brimming with hidden histories and tantalising twists, The Accidental Dictionary tells the extraordinary stories behind ordinary words.

Our everyday language is full of surprises; its origins are stranger than you might think. Any word might be knocked and buffeted, subjected to twists and turns, expansions and contractions, happy and unhappy accidents. There are intriguing tales behind even the most familiar terms, and they can say as much about the present as they do the past.

Busking, for instance, originally meant piracy. Grin meant to snarl. A bimbo was a man, nice meant ignorant, glamour was magic and a cupboard was a table...

Focusing on 100 surprising threads in the evolution of English, The Accidental Dictionary reveals the etymological origins and quirky developments that have led to the meanings we take for granted today. It is a weird and wonderful journey into words.

So, let's revel in its randomness and delight in its diversity - our dictionary is indeed accidental.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 224 pages
  • 129 x 198 x 22mm | 243g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New edition
  • 2nd New edition
  • 1783964383
  • 9781783964383
  • 875,941

Review quote

"Paul Anthony Jones's The Accidental Dictionary is certainly worth adding [to a bookshelf]. It's all about the changes in meaning that many words have experienced over the years. ... I knew very few of these, which is a good thing, and now I know more, which is a better one" -- Marcus Berkmann, Spectator Christmas books 2016; "His focus is on words that have since done a volte-face, with surprising and often comical results ... There's no need to know any of this... but it sure makes life a lot nicer to find these things out" -- Madame J-Mo; "Verbal hanky-panky at its best" -- Sciencebase; "A fantastic book" --; "Fun and informative" -- Interesting; "Check out @HaggardHawks' new book for more lovely facts on how words changed their meanings over time" --Greg Jenner, author of A Million Years in a Day; "A real delight ... hidden gems nestle on every page"; "A delight to read ... fun to have on the bookshelf and possibly a good extra Christmas present (yes it is getting closer) for the pedant in your life (even if it is you!)" -- Army Rumour Service; "If you like Mashed Radish, then you'll love Paul Anthony Jones' latest book ... Each selection is pithy and engaging, making The Accidental Dictionary an ideal book to pick up whenever you need a funny yet informative break or burst of inspired word-nerdom. But I think you'll find, like me, that the word histories Jones' has curated - and his infectious enthusiasm for them - are hard to put down" -- Mashed Radish; "The short witty essays on each chosen word are fascinating ... The Accidental Dictionary is both fascinating and rigorous at the same time. Jones writes in an entertaining and informative way, and it is littered liberally with quotes and verse, making this an engaging book to read too. It is a great little book for the etymological nut; and for those that cherish the book this has a stunning gold leaf print on the cover" -- HalfManHalfBook; "I'm always on the hunt for a book that will educate me while entertain me at the same time and I have to say this is the perfect combination ... A fun read" --After the Credits
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About Paul Anthony Jones

Paul Anthony Jones is a writer, etymologist and language blogger. He is the author of several books on trivia and language, including the widely acclaimed Word Drops: A Sprinkling of Linguistic Curiosities (2015), The British Isles: A Trivia Gazetteer (2012), Haggard Hawks & Paltry Poltroons (2013) and its sequel, Jedburgh Justice & Kentish Fire (2014). He has contributed to the Independent, the Guardian, the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Mental Floss and BBC Radio 4's The World at One, and he also runs @HaggardHawks, the hugely popular language-based Twitter account and YouTube channel. A piano teacher and musician, he lives in South Tyneside.
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Rating details

177 ratings
3.69 out of 5 stars
5 22% (39)
4 36% (63)
3 33% (58)
2 8% (15)
1 1% (2)
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