Books : reviews

Michael Quinion.
Port Out, Starboard Home: and other language myths.
Penguin. 2004

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 23 December 2005

Many of the common words and phrases that we use are surrounded by "folk etymology", derivations imaginative, obscure, ludicrous, occasionally obscene or offensive, and rarely true. Quinion, editor of World Wide Words, examines many of these, tracking down the truth, and laying many myths to rest. I learned some interesting real etymologies, and some fake ones that I had never heard before. The most useful thing I discovered is that any etymology claiming a word is derived from an acronym is almost certainly fake (including the titular "posh"). Mostly, Quinion dispels the myths, but occasionally he is tempted into tentative speculations of his own.