Origins of the Specious

I recently finished the book “Origins of the Specious” by Patricia O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman (Random House 2010). Subtitled “Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language,” it was truly a fun read.  Unless you think etymology is about the study of eyties, you might enjoy it as well. (Etymology is the study of the history of words.) I also happen to enjoy a good word play–and this book starts with one right in the title.

It did take me a while to finish, because I chose to digest it in small bites. Not only was it informative, the writing is great. Watch this.

In the chapter “Snow job” the authors dispel the notion that there are dozens (or hundreds, depending on your version) of words for snow in the Eskimo language. Some dependable sources list four, one got to seven in 1940. (Wait for it!) The authors point out, “In the decades since then, the number or words has snowballed with each retelling…”  Another paragraph notes there has been an “avalanche of snow stories.”

So while I’m recommending the book, I’m also willing to concede that not everyone will fully enjoy or appreciate the topic or the writing… but if you’ll visit http://www.grammarphobia.com/ you can learn more about several books they’ve written… and visit their blog for some “tastes” of etymology that will impress your friends at dinner parties.

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Filed under Learning, Personal Growth, Writing Skills

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