The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English

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9780374254100: The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English

Words are essential to our everyday lives. An average person spends his or her day enveloped in conversations, e-mails, phone calls, text messages, directions, headlines, and more. But how often do we stop to think about the origins of the words we use? Have you ever thought about which words in English have been borrowed from Arabic, Dutch, or Portuguese? 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 language and vocabulary, but also of how words witness history, reflect social change, and remind us of our past. Henry Hitchings delves into the insatiable, ever-changing English 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 a living archive of our human experience. He uncovers the secrets behind everyday words and explores the surprising origins of our most commonplace expressions. The Secret Life of Words is a rich, lively celebration of the language and vocabulary that we too often take for granted.

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About the Author:

Henry Hitchings was born in 1974. Educated at the universities of Oxford and London, he is the author of Defining the World and has contributed to many newspapers and magazines.

From Booklist:

What Hitchings shows us is that the history of our vocabulary is the history of who we really are. Playing up the “acquisitiveness of English,” which has proved hospitable to words from more than 350 other languages, his book has a wide sweep, from pre-Roman Britain to online communities. Each chapter tends to address a particular influx of words, whether rooted in invasion and conquest or in the innovative use of the language by gifted writers. A chapter called “Angst” not only covers the twentieth century’s contribution to the vocabulary via the military, advertising, technology, and the business world, it also incorporates, in digressive but entertaining fashion, the history of coffee, a caustic evisceration of “management speak,” and an explanation of why purists are so resistant to new words. Ever ready with an apt quote, Hitchings makes a delightful and knowledgeable guide, privy to many fascinating facts about the language—those averse to the increasing power of technophiles are given a handful of pithy put-downs, including dot snots and entrepenerds. A well-researched, fluidly written book that wears its scholarship lightly. --Joanne Wilkinson

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Henry Hitchings
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