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Journeying through Language: Around the World in 80 Words

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle enjoys a world tour of the English language courtesy of Paul Anthony Jones’s new book

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but ‘they’, of course are wrong. They’re especially wrong in the case of Paul Anthony Jones’s books of language trivia, which are becoming as much of an annual event – at least at IL Towers – as Jools’s Hootenanny or eating too much Christmas dinner. Last year’s book was a year’s guide to the English language – a yearbook of forgotten words, going through the calendar from 1st January to 31st December – and sported a beautifully designed cover that made it equally ideal for putting on show on the coffee table as hiding away as a private pleasure in the smallest room. And Jones’s new book, Around the World in 80 Words: A Journey Through the English Language (Elliott and Thompson), which is a geographical rather than chronological journey through the English language, sports an equally delightful blue-and-gold cover which matches perfectly the glittering facts to be found within. Read the rest of this entry

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Five Great Words for Specific Days of the Year

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities by Paul Anthony Jones

I love books of language trivia, and learning new words is always a pleasure. One of the finest Twitter accounts to offer a ‘word of the day’ is @HaggardHawks, run by Paul Anthony Jones, author of several fascinating books on language and a real logognost (one who knows words – actually, I just Googled to see if that word exists and apparently it doesn’t, but it should: we have the word ‘bibliognost’ for one who knows books). His new book, The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words, is a treasure-trove of rare words – arranged so that each page considers a different word and explores its connection to a day of the year. Here are five of my favourites – though there were many more I could have chosen.

Quaaltagh (1 January). The first person you meet on New Year’s Day. This word found its way into English from Manx, the Celtic language of the Isle of Man, and is pronounced ‘quoll-tukh’. The word originally Read the rest of this entry

The Curious and Little-Known Slang Terms Found in Modern Britain

From Susie Dent’s fascinating new book on ‘modern tribes’

The lexicographer and etymologist Susie Dent is well-known in the UK thanks to her role as the resident word expert and adjudicator on the long-running Channel 4 quiz show Countdown (the very first programme broadcast on the channel in 1982; Susie Dent joined the show in 1992). Dent is also the author of a series of popular books on the English language. Dent’s Modern Tribes: The Secret Languages of Britain is her latest book, and we were fortunate enough to be recipients of a review copy. The book is a treasure-trove of unusual jargon and colourful slang from various trades, clubs, sports, social groups, and walks of life – everything from an old publican’s friendly nickname for a habitual drinker (that’s a tosspot) to the theatrical term for an actor who performs in an exaggerated, hammy manner (that’ll be a scenery-chewer). Dent has been scouring old dictionaries of slang and other historical sources for such memorable linguistic zingers. Read the rest of this entry