How can I start an etymological education?
July 30, 2007 10:17 AM   Subscribe

So, I want to learn more about etymology. What's a good place to get started?

I'm looking for approachable, engrossing books on the topic. I don't want to flip through an etymology dictionary and learn by rote memorization; I want stories and interesting facts.

I've always been fascinated with the origins of words. I'm not looking to become an expert on the subject, but keep it as something of a side hobby. Are there any books out there that won't bore me to pieces while teaching me the wonders of language?

O wise hive mind, shower me with your suggestions!

And thanks!
posted by kmtiszen to Education (9 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Michael Quinion, of World Wide Words fame lists several books on his site.
posted by grateful at 10:30 AM on July 30, 2007

I'm currently enjoying "Devious Derivations," by Hugh Rawson.
posted by greatgefilte at 10:33 AM on July 30, 2007

A few favorite links:

1) Not a book, but a radio show/podcast: A Way With Words, from KPBS San Diego, calls itself "a joyride through the English language", and answers call-in etymology questions. Both hosts are lexicographers/linguists.

2) Also not a book: MeFi's Own (TM) Languagehat has an excellent blog with heaps of links dealing with all things language-y. *waves to languagehat*

3) My dictionary of choice for etymologies and Indo-European and Semitic roots is the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, which is online and free here; in the entry for wheel, for example, if you click on the root at the bottom, you'll be taken to this page that explains other words that derive from the same root. Very cool.

Additionally, if you can get access to the online version through a public library, the Oxford English Dictionary is awesome - here's a post to AskMe from a week ago where the OED's exhaustive definition style made it easy to see that something someone thought was a neologism actually was hundreds of years old!
posted by mdonley at 11:04 AM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wheelock's Latin.

My favorite dictionary for etymological purposes is the Funk and Wagnall's Canadian College Edition.
posted by solongxenon at 11:19 AM on July 30, 2007

Anatoly Liberman has an etymology blog on the Oxfd. Univ. Press blog, and also a magisterial book, Word Origins and how we know them.
posted by xueexueg at 11:20 AM on July 30, 2007

THIS site is good for searches, but they also list their sources (about a couple dozen books) HERE.
posted by NYScott at 2:13 PM on July 30, 2007

I am really enjoying The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary. The beginning section about how people actually write dictionaries is really interesting.
posted by bluebird at 3:30 PM on July 30, 2007

Podictionary is an origin-of-the-word-of-the-day podcast available free from iTunes. I especially enjoyed the one about "pants."
posted by kidsleepy at 4:36 PM on July 30, 2007

Here's a great forum that discusses the etymology of various words. The search feature is terrible, but I can usually find what I'm looking for by digging through the archives.
posted by (bb|[^b]{2}) at 5:26 PM on July 30, 2007

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