The Secret Lives of Words

Overview

We are often unaware of the unique and intriguing stories of the words we love. Thousands of our words have been so twisted, tangled, misused, and muddled over the centuries that their original meaning has been obscured. You'll be surprised to learn that table napkins were once made of and referred to as "asbestos," that "atom" means uncuttable, that a "cloud" was once a hill, and that a "companion" is one who eats bread with you.

Compiled over years in his handwritten ...

See more details below
Available through our Marketplace sellers.
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (27) from $1.99   
  • New (4) from $1.99   
  • Used (23) from $1.99   
Close
Sort by
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any BN.com coupons and promotions
$1.99
Seller since 2008

Feedback rating:

(88)

Condition:

New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.

New
2000 Hardcover New Ships Fast! Satisfaction Guaranteed!

Ships from: Skokie, IL

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$24.95
Seller since 2008

Feedback rating:

(15)

Condition: New
2000 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 304 p. Audience: General/trade.

Ships from: Orlando, FL

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$35.35
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(259)

Condition: New
Brand New Item.

Ships from: Chatham, NJ

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$45.00
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(146)

Condition: New
Brand new.

Ships from: acton, MA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Close
Sort by
Sending request ...

Overview

We are often unaware of the unique and intriguing stories of the words we love. Thousands of our words have been so twisted, tangled, misused, and muddled over the centuries that their original meaning has been obscured. You'll be surprised to learn that table napkins were once made of and referred to as "asbestos," that "atom" means uncuttable, that a "cloud" was once a hill, and that a "companion" is one who eats bread with you.

Compiled over years in his handwritten notebooks, acclaimed prose stylist Paul West offers us an album of treasures. The Secret Lives of Words is an "Antiques Road Show" of language, in which West chronicles the centuries-long travels of words across continents and through cultures. For word-enthusiasts, speakers, writers, thinkers, and all readers, this volume recounting the intimate ancestry of language will enrich our understanding of and appreciation for the words we use today.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"His is one of the most original talents in American fiction."-The New York Times Book Review "Paul West is a writer splendidly attuned to history."-Walter Abish
"A sorcerer of language."-Publishers Weekly
"West is a master."-the Washington Post Book World
Washington Post Book World
West is a master.
New York Times Book Review
Like Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, The Secret Lives of Words is best when savored piecemeal, bit by bit.
New York Times Book Review
He is one of the most original talents in American fiction.
Walter Abish
Paul West is a writer splendidly attuned to history.
Washington Post Book World
West is a master.
Roger Harris
...useful and wonderful flights of fancy from a great writer.
Newark Star Ledger
KLIATT
I'm a sucker for any book that delves into obscure etymological arcana, and this one is a doozie ("from Duesenberg, that eminently desirable motor car of the Twenties and Thirties"); still, I have to admit that West can be a tad obscure in spots even for my relatively sophisticated tastes. Language lovers will relish these eccentric and playful mini-essays on the derivation of words both common and otherwise, but younger readers may be downright bewildered by the author's dense and sometimes rambling reflections. While including the usual explanations of how "ketchup" and its variations derive from a Malay fish sauce, how "checkmate" is Persian for "the king is dead," and how mispronouncing "shibboleth" could mean instant death to Ephraimite intruders, West goes on to present free-associating ruminations that explore the implications of several hundred words in a far quirkier manner than one might expect in a book of this type. Whether or not his analyses are always accurate I can't be sure—he doesn't seem to know, for example, that "dis" is a shortening of "disrespect"—but they are consistently complex, lively, and downright fascinating. For those who are easily offended, it should be duly noted that the entries in this highly idiosyncratic glossary make generous reference to popular vulgarisms and the acts, organs, and substances to which they refer. Some librarians may choose to pass on this book for that reason alone, and that would be too bad. Readers who take words seriously (and, perhaps, not so seriously) will derive great delight from West's highly stylized prose. While young readers may not find West's book immediately accessible, it is a book well worth growing into. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Harcourt, 296p., $13.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Jeffrey Cooper; Writer/Editor, Long Island, NY , November 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 6)
Library Journal
Since his student days, West, the celebrated author of 18 novels (e.g., Life with Swan, LJ 2/1/99) and a dozen works of nonfiction and poetry, has kept notebooks of words that intrigue him, especially those with puzzling or obscure histories. In this wonderful little book, he shares some 400 of these words. West's special interest is in a word's origins and its evolution over time and across cultures. Each entry traces the word from its origin through its sometimes-tangled development into current usage. More than etymologies and dictionary facts, these entries are short essays about words as human "characters" with fascinating life stories. From digging up the origin of the word assassin among Muslim hashish eaters to finding the roots of quark in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, each entry gives the reader the joy of discovery and the satisfaction of untying a knot. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book that word enthusiasts, writers, and indeed any interested reader can savor. Highly recommended.--Paul A. D'Alessandro, Portland P.L., ME Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
This wonderfully curious and eclectic volume falls somewhere between a quirky dictionary and a romantic sonnet. Novelist West (The Dry Danube, p. 422, etc.) is irrevocably enamored with etymology, and his "short homage" to some 400 words can be thoroughly enjoyed by reading A to Z—or by simply "dipping" into it, as the author himself recommends. From abacus to zymurqist (the two word histories boil down to "dust to dust," West points out), the entries range from the complete evolution of a word to merely a quick and surprising note on its modern usage. West truly believes that words are living, organic things with an etymology and a personality, and his passion sets a romantic backdrop for some enigmatic histories. His "choice of words" reveals a romantic and inquisitive personality, where the terminology of sports and cooking, medicine and Macbeth abound. He tells us that "amethyst" means "not drunk," that a "companion" is one who eats bread with you, and that "orchid" and "avocado" originate from various cultures' terms for "testicle." From "poetry" to "placenta," from "mistletoe" to "marzipan," West's collection brims with peculiar gems. He quips that "we might say alias is aka aka," and in another entry he claims that "you do not need this word until you find it." He also contemplates the origins of curious phrases like "stone the crows," "kick the bucket," and "screw the pooch." To West, joy is epitomized by language—"the silk of our so-called civilization"—andtragedyis exemplified by the dead-end term "etymology unknown," or EU. Words are a metaphor for his universe and he believes that "we rehearse on words for the mysteries of the cosmos, which, of course may not even have a beginning." Word enthusiasts will find trivia and treasure here.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151004669
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/22/2000
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul West, called "a national treasure," is the author of eighteen novels, most recently Life with Swan, and ten works of nonfiction. A recipient of numerous awards and honors, he has taught at Brown University, Cornell University, and the University of Arizona. He lives in Ithaca, New York.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)