The Etymologicon – David Forsyth

I’m going to start working at my local bookshop soon, which is a big step forward! I’ll have to get myself a reward of some sort. I spoke to the owner today, and he asked me about my plans for after uni and if I enjoyed my first year. That was kind of him. He also said that he thought I’d be good at recommending books to customers, which boosted my confidence.

I started reading The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth yesterday. It’s been around for ages, and I’m glad I’ve finally picked it up. It is described as “A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language”, which I think sums it up pretty well. Forsyth explains the origins and development of words and idioms in a linked, “circular” manner that reminds me slightly of Dave’s “Tedious Link” on Radio 1 (although less tedious). It’s filled with QI-esque knowledge to annoy your friends and family, and explains a lot of things I often ponder over (why is the petrol company Shell called that?)

From describing the criminal who became a leading contributor to the OED, to explaining how Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was actually against the death penalty, Forsyth really has done his research. He began by writing The Inky Fool blog, which then developed into this book. I need to give his blog a proper read, but it’ll probably take up hours of my time. Worthwhile hours, however.

As I study language (I’m doing an English and Spanish degree), it really is interesting to learn about where English words come from in conjunction with other European languages. I’ve never really done much etymology, but Forsyth has certainly made me want to look into it.

Here’s a quote:

“When Caxton built his printing press in the fifteenth century, he set it to use sheepskin and not paper. When paper was finally introduced it was manufactured to fit the existing printing presses, and that’s the reason that both the text you’re reading and the book that contains it are dependent on sheep. Of course, you may be reading this on your e-book reader, but as those have been designed to mimic the size of normal books, you’re still at the mercy of the sheep”

It’s rather typical of me to quote this passage, as a farmer’s daughter. In other news, socialising is on my agenda this evening, surprisingly. I’m seeing old friends that I haven’t seen for a while, and I’m not sure if it’ll be a friendly meeting or rather awkward. I’ll see how it goes.


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It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at

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