In Devious Derivations, word maven Hugh Rawson brings you a marvelously entertaining roundup of 1,000 spurious etymologies, then enlightens you with their genuine counterparts. Some wiseacre (which, by the way, has nothing to do with a land measure) may have told you that a tip is something you give to a waiter "To Insure Promptness," or that James I once knighted a remarkable side of beef, saying "Arise, Sir Loin," but like hundreds of oft-repeated accounts of word origins, they're just too good to be true. People, it seems, are etymologizing creatures, and if a certain lexical lineage is unclear, they are sure to invent one. If you hear that pumpernickel was named by Napoleon Bonaparte, who, upon being served the dark German bread, derided it as "pain pour Nicol" (bread for his horse, Nicol), you can take it with a grain of salt (which since 1647 has been making questionable tales, like questionable meat, more palatable). The same goes for condom (there is no evidence of a Doctor or Colonel Condom ever existing), crap (only coincidentally related to the toilet innovator Thomas Crapper), SOS (not from "Save Our Ship," let alone "Save Our Souls"), and Baby Ruth (often credited erroneously to the legendary baseball player). So when you're trying like the dickens (which has nothing to do with the novelist) to figure out what BVD stands for (hint: it's not Boy's Ventilated Drawers), don't be an ignoramus (which does not come from the word ignorant)--check out Devious Derivations. In the end, knowing the origins of words and phrases adds new meaning to them and enables the person who is conscious of all their nuances to employ them more artfully.
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"There is no more avid, intrepid, and skilled word hunter at work today than Hugh Rawson. In Devious Derivations, he cuts through the tangle of confusing word origins and helps us discover who we are and whence we came."
-- Richard Lederer, "Looking at Language"
"This volume should take a place alongside that old favorite, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable -- close to the dining room table where they both can be turned to whenever mealtimes dissolve into etymological arguments." -- Washington Post Book World
"Hugh Rawson made a lot of literary friends with his previous Wicked Words (if you missed it, find a copy quick) and his newest foray into the English language is an absolute delight, the fruits of a learned man who has a gleam in his eye." -- Coast Book Review ServiceFrom the Inside Flap:
In this marvelously entertaining book, word maven Hugh Rawson rounds up 1,000 words and phrases whose origins are not what you might expect. Some wiseacre (the word has nothing to do with land measure) may have told you that a tip is given to a waiter "to insure promptness," or that S.O.S. stands for "Save Our Ship," or that hooker is a tribute to the character of Joseph Hooker, the Civil War general. Like hundreds of popular etymologies, these oft-repeated accounts are just too good to be true. Now Mr. Rawson punctures the myths, gives the real derivations, and along the way provides many insights into how language works.
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