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The Secret Life of Words

Henry Hitchings

8 Reviews

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Language: history & general works, Prose: non-fiction, General & world history

Journey into the history of English and discover how words have been absorbed into our language to make it what it is today

Communication is essential to our lives, but how often do we stop to think about where the words we use have come from Have you ever thought about which words in English have been borrowed from Arabic, French or Dutch Try admiral, landscape and marmalade just for starters. The Secret Life of Words is a wide-ranging account not only of the history of English, but also of how words witness history, reflect social change and remind us of our turbulent past. Henry Hitchings delves into our promiscuous language and reveals how and why it has absorbed words from more than 350 other languages many originating from the most unlikely of places, such as shampoo from Hindi and kiosk from Turkish.

From the Norman Conquest to the present day, Hitchings narrates the story of English as an archive of our human experience and uncovers the secrets behind everyday words. This is a celebration of our language; after reading it, you will never again take the words we use for granted.

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Praise for The Secret Life of Words

  • Hitchings's excavations are a treat. He presents the best gleanings of academia in a winning, conversational style. Almost every spadeful yields an etymological nugget . . . elegantly and entertainingly written - Financial Times

  • [It] disentangles an intriguing narrative from a mass of information, revealing the distinct cultural climates that produced certain words and bearing witness to an increasing global language, always morphing into something new - Guardian

  • A fascinating exploration of the rich borrowings, exchanges and couplings of the language - Ben Macintyre, The Times

  • Hitchings delves into words, resurfacing with their surprising origins - The Times

  • It is a book that brings etymology fizzingly alive ... it teems with vivid, quirky evidence of the way the English vocabulary bears continuing witness to our cultural history - Sunday Times

  • His book is a patient, thorough and highly entertaining excavation - Sunday Times

  • Hitchings's examples cover the full span of English - Observer

  • Expert analysis ... this is a wonderfully well-organised and entertaining book, which thoroughly deserved to win last year's John Llewellyn Rhys Prize - Daily Mail

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Henry Hitchings

Henry Hitchings was born in 1974. He has contributed to many newspapers and magazines, and is theatre critic for the Evening Standard.

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