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The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth

By Mark Forsyth

Are you aware why…

…a personal loan is actually a demise pledge? …why weapons have girls’ names? …why salt is expounded to soldier?

You’re approximately to discover out…

The Etymologicon (e-t?-‘mä-lä-ji-kän) is:
*Witty (wi-te\): filled with shrewdpermanent humor
*Erudite (er-?-dit): displaying knowledge
*Ribald (ri-b?ld): Crude, offensive

The Etymologicon is a totally unauthorized consultant to the unusual underpinnings of the English language. It explains: the way you get from “gruntled” to “disgruntled”; why you're completely correct to think that your meager wage slightly covers “money for salt”; how the largest chain of espresso retailers on the earth (hint: Seattle) connects to whaling in Nantucket; and what exactly the Rolling Stones need to do with gardening.

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Sample text

So it was in the translation of Psychopathia Sexualis that English first got the words homosexual, heterosexual, necrophilia, frotteur, anilingus, exhibitionism, sadism and masochism. 44 Sadism had in fact been around for a while in French. The French writer Donatien Alphonse François Marquis de Sade was famous for producing horrid books about people being horrid to each other in bed. Really horrid. Catchy titles like One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom should give you some idea, but a clearer image of the nature of Sade’s work comes from the fact that in the 1930s a historian by the name of Geoffrey Gorer, who was researching the marquis, went to the British Museum to read some of de Sade’s works that were stored there.

Sometimes, however, it is fair, as with the word quisling. Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian maths prodigy and invented his own religion. He also embarrassed himself rather during the Second World War by trying to get Norway to surrender to the Nazis so that he could be the puppet Minister-President. He succeeded in his plan and ten weeks after his appointment The Times wrote: Major Quisling has added a new word to the English language. To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor … they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters.

Instead of being executed, he had a T branded on his thumb and was sent home with a warning. The T stood for Tyburn, which is where the hangings used to take place. We even know the name of the man who would have hanged Ben Jonson: he was called Thomas Derrick. Thomas Derrick was a nasty man. There hadn’t been enough applicants for the role of executioner and so the Earl of Essex pardoned a rapist on condition that he would take on the job. That rapist was Derrick. Derrick was a bad man and a good executioner.

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