The Secret Life of Words

The Secret Life of Words : How English Became English

3.66 (412 ratings by Goodreads)
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Communication is essential to our lives, but how often do we stop to think about where the words we use have come from? Have you ever thought about which words in English have been borrowed from Arabic, French or Dutch? Try admiral, landscape and marmalade just for starters. The Secret Life of Words is a wide-ranging account not only of the history of English, but also of how words witness history, reflect social change and remind us of our turbulent past. Henry Hitchings delves into our promiscuous language and reveals how and why it has absorbed words from more than 350 other languages many originating from the most unlikely of places, such as shampoo from Hindi and kiosk from Turkish. From the Norman Conquest to the present day, Hitchings narrates the story of English as an archive of our human experience and uncovers the secrets behind everyday words. This is a celebration of our language; after reading it, you will never again take the words we use for more

Product details

  • Hardback | 448 pages
  • 140 x 216 x 42mm | 662.24g
  • Hodder & Stoughton General Division
  • John Murray Publishers Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0719564549
  • 9780719564543
  • 194,013

About Henry Hitchings

Henry Hitchings was born in 1974. Educated at the universities of Oxford and London, he is the author of Dr Johnsons Dictionary and has contributed to many newspapers and more

Review quote

'Hitching's excavation are a treat. He presents the best gleanings of academia in a winning, conversational style. Almost every spadeful yields an etymological nugget ... elegantly and entertainingly written' -- Financial Times '[It] disentangles an intriguing narrative from a mass of information, revealing the distinct cultural climates that produced certain words and bearing witness to an increasing global language, always morphing into something new' -- Guardian 'A fascinating exploration of the rich borrowings, exchanges and couplings of the language' -- Ben Macintyre, The Times 'Hitchings delves into words, resurfacing with their surprising origins' -- The Times 'It is a book that brings etymology fizzingly alive ... it teems with vivid, quirky evidence of the way the English vocabulary bears continuing witness to our cultural history' -- Sunday Times 'His book is a patient, thorough and highly entertaining excavation' -- Sunday Times 'Hitchings's examples cover the full span of English' -- Observer 'Expert analysis ... this is a wonderfully well-organised and entertaining book, which thoroughly deserved to win last year's John Llewellyn Rhys Prize' -- Daily Mail 'Hitchings has teased out the stories lurking behind the language to provide a most satisfying whole' -- Publishing News 'Much more than a collage of etymological trivia, this is a dense and thorough excavation of the stories that lie behind the words we say' -- Metro 'Quite how Hitchings has managed to wrestle this dizzying mountain of dense information into such an elegant narrative ... is a feat almost as admirable as that of the great lexicographer. His book is painstakingly detailed, closely argued and suffused with a contagious enthusiasm for the secrets woven into the fabric of our words -- Daily Telegraph 'Hitchings steps deftly round the traps and the stereotypes, while throwing up great clouds of delicious trivia' -- Peter Robins, Daily Telegraph 'This clever, persuasive, delightful book is studded with entertaining observations' -- Independent on Sunday 'Wearing his learning lightly, Hitchings has produced an impressive successor to his acclaimed account of Johnson's dictionary' -- Independent 'A wonderfully detailed history of the English language' -- Good Book Guide 'A thrilling narrative history of our uniquely beautiful and thriving language' -- Catholic Herald 'Comprehensive guide ... with countless revelations and world-related trivia, this is the often surprising story of the words we take for granted' -- Heritage 'This is a hugely informative and non-academic account' -- Sunday Tribune 'Fascinating subject ... a detailed, comprehensive study ...there are lots of surprises, and the author's enthusiasm is infectious. An entertaining and informative read' -- Shropshire Star 'Much more interesting than a simple dictionary of etymology' -- Writing Magazine 'Marvellous, scholarly and beautifully written, quite the best of its kind I have read in years ... wise and witty' -- Oldie 'Wonderfully detailed history ... a rich and rewarding read' -- Good Book Guideshow more

Rating details

412 ratings
3.66 out of 5 stars
5 22% (91)
4 36% (149)
3 30% (122)
2 10% (42)
1 2% (8)
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