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978-0-19-869292-8 / 9780198692928

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About the book:

Why is "f" used instead of "s" in old-fashioned writing and printing? What does "corned" mean in "corned beef?" How many words are there in the English language? Is the correct plural of "octopus" spelled "octopuses" or "octopi"? Since the Oxford Word and Language Service (OWLS, for short) was launched in 1983, it has been flooded with queries such as the above. The questions come from university professors, schoolchildren, word-game enthusiasts, translators, historians, and monks--from people who have come across obscure words in an old will or in an ancient recipe book, or who have had their curiosity piqued by one of the thousands of oddities attendant on our language.
In Questions of English, Jeremy Marshall and Mrs. Fred McDonald have gathered some of the most curious and enlightening questions that OWLS has fielded, in a volume that will fascinate word lovers everywhere. The topics range from the mundane to the exotic, from common questions of punctuation or pronunciation (why, for instance, is the River Thames pronounced temz?), to queries about bizarre words and neologisms (such as "nephelococcygeal," which means "of or related to Cloud-Cuckoo-Land"). Logophiles are in their element here, with fascinating discussions of obscure words as well as intriguing facts about the familiar. We learn, for instance, that the political term "Tory" was originally an insulting nickname (probably related to the Irish word for thief), as were the terms "Whig," "Quaker," and "Methodist." The editors tell us that the word "gopher" comes from the French gaufre or "honeycomb" (because the gopher's burrows honeycombed the ground) and that "zimbabwe" is an African word meaning "walled grave," a name given to the numerous ruined medieval settlements found in the state of Zimbabwe. And we discover that the plural of "octopus" should perhaps be "octopodes" ("octopi" comes from the mistaken idea that "octopus" is a Latin word; it's actually a Latinized form of the Greek oktopous, whose plural is oktopodes), but either "octopi" or "octopuses" are considered correct. In addition, the Owls puzzle over many spurious etymologies, such as for the words "posh" (which probably does not stand for "Port Out Starboard Home"), "quiz," "snob," or "OK," and they provide a brief discussion of British and American English, which covers pronunciation (we say tomado, they say tomato), spelling, and vocabulary (in America, "mean" means "nasty," while in Britain it means "cheap").
A joy for any lover of language, Questions of English brings the language to life with bright and often irreverent style. It is a browser's goldmine, packed with fascinating and useful facts about our native tongue.

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