422: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two by Anu Garg
422: Garg, Anu. The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words. New York: Plume, 2007. 169 pp. ISBN 978-0-452-28861-4.
- 400: Language
- 420: English and Old English
- 422: Etymology of standard English
Languages are wonderful things. They are fluid, foreign, and fantastic. The English language is an amalgamation of everything it has come into contact with, including itself. Words have been borrowed from other languages, re-translated, shifted over time, and even re-combined to add new nuance and new history. Anu Garg’s The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two is a look into the nooks and crannies of the English language to show some of the more amazing stories behind some of its most interesting words.
There’s no real structure to this book (much like the English language itself). Each chapter is a different gathering of fun words that have crept their way into the language. There are words from Dickens’s books, a chapter on insults, a chapter on obscure words, a chapter on measurements, and even a chapter showing the etymological relatedness of seemingly disparate words. Here are some of my favorites:
- Dord: a word that sprang into existence when a dictionary copyeditor mistakenly crushed together an entry which read “D or d” (both designations for density)
- Millihelen: the amount of beauty required to launch a single ship (since Helen herself launched a thousand ships)
- Deipnosophist: A good conversationalist at meals
- Illeist: One who refers to himself in the third person
Garg doesn’t cover a lot of new ground here, but the information is interesting nonetheless. His writing is breezy and the word categories he puts together are fun. If you’re a book-hungry philologist, then this is another one to add to your bookshelves. Garg’s compilation will make for a good afternoon of reading. A short and entertaining book.