Why should we know what words originally meant?
That was one of the questions I pondered on when I finished the book, A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi: Words We Pinched from Other Languages. If the original meaning is rendered archaic now, what is the use in knowing it? That definition isn’t what is usually used nor is it what the majority knows or would refer to.
Be that as it may, the original meaning of the word holds plenty of influence on a word’s current spelling, pronunciation, and sphere and frequency of usage.
Plus, even if the original meaning may be deemed as obsolete now, it does not mean that it may no longer be used. The riddles and wit that our authors, poets, and bloggers employ the various definitions of words. And that would include what it first meant.
Guess that’s why I grew to be in awe of the power—and history—of the word. And it’s no wonder why I bought this book!
For the record though, A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi is not a straight-up etymology book. Although it really comes very painfully close to it, it isn’t. Rhodes’ compilation lacks the so-called boring dates. Albeit she does make references to certain years, only a few entries have them.
Despite missing the “circa phrases”, it still packs that historical punch. There is sufficient information on the formation of the word and how it became part of the English language. Color me geek but I just find it really interesting.
Usually I don’t mention illustrations but this time, I just have to. The drawings are quite funny. Most of the time, an illustration has nothing to do with how the word is used in the example and is just a mere exaggeration of the definition or history. But all of them make good respites from entries.
And yes, I know that word history isn’t for everyone. What may be an exciting tome to me may be a sleeper for many. So I do not recommend this for the general public, unless you, the reader, are interested in the subject.