Little Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins

J Cresswell, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014, 400pp, £9.98 (hbk), ISBN 978 0 19968 363 5

Reviewed by Michèle Clarke

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This is a new little book from OUP, out in time for the Christmas stocking no doubt, as many of this genre are! The blurb says it is 'engaging' and 'fascinating', and, if you are interested in the etymology of English words, it will indeed be so, but there are other books rather like this.

It is divided by subject alphabetically (such as 'behaviour', 'chemistry', 'entertainment', etc), and the words under scrutiny are listed under each of these headings.

So, at random, one might spot words that are surprising in their modern usage given their origins: the fact that Ol' Blue Eyes might actually have been a 'groaner' rather than a 'crooner' might please some! I like some of the sources that give a slightly different slant to words, such as 'cemetery', which comes from the Greek for 'dormitory' – so a nice place for sleeping.

Could be a good book for those family quizzes …

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