Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds: Ingenious Tales of Words and Their Origins

Michael Quinion, Author Smithsonian Books $19.95 (280p) ISBN 978-1-58834-219-5
Logophile Quinion, who writes a column about new words for the Daily Telegraph, proves his knowledge of familiar phrases in this energetic look at common English words and idioms. The first known use of the term ""cut and dried,"" for example, occurred in 1710, in reference to an uninspired sermon; like herbs precut for sale in markets, the sermon lacked freshness. The notion of a ""graveyard shift"" did not arise from Victorian-era workers minding cemeteries to make sure people weren't accidentally buried alive (""I love such stories, complete and utter hogwash though they are,"" notes the author), but dates from the early years of the 20th century, and is merely an evocative term for the night shift. From ""Akimbo"" (perhaps Old Norse in origin) to ""Zzxjoanw"" (an etymological hoax rather than a real word), Quinion tours the English language, not always offering definitive answers but generally providing the next best thing: good theories.
Reviewed on: 10/18/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 280 pages - 978-0-06-085153-8
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