The World in So Many Words: A Country-by-Country Tour of Words That Have Shaped Our Language

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"Biblically speaking, the first paradise was the Garden of Eden. But linguistically speaking, it was a Persian amusement park. Or, more precisely, it was the walled park of a Persian ruler or noble, observed more than two thousand years ago by a young Greek named Xenophon." Allan A. Metcalf shows us paradise and a whole lot more in his whirlwind tour of languages that have made contributions to our own. Starting in Europe, the original home of English, he takes us around the world, country by country, language by language. We see a geyser in

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Overview

"Biblically speaking, the first paradise was the Garden of Eden. But linguistically speaking, it was a Persian amusement park. Or, more precisely, it was the walled park of a Persian ruler or noble, observed more than two thousand years ago by a young Greek named Xenophon." Allan A. Metcalf shows us paradise and a whole lot more in his whirlwind tour of languages that have made contributions to our own. Starting in Europe, the original home of English, he takes us around the world, country by country, language by language. We see a geyser in Iceland, take a siesta in Spain, and receive justice in Italy. In Africa we feel the warm harmarttan wind, visit an Egyptian oasis, and learn about mysterious voodoo. We travel to northern India, where we seek the elusive goat antelope called the serow; to icy Tibet, where the even more elusive yeti dwells unseen among the rocks; to Tahiti, where we get a tattoo; to Samoa, where we are shown how to cover it up with a lavalava. We encounter buccaneers from Brazil and Paraguay, caciques from Guyana and Surinam, bunyips from Australia, and zombies from Congo. As experienced on Metcalf's tour, the English language is more wonderful and exotic than you've ever imagined—a truly multicultural language for a multicultural world.

In this book, Metcalf, a lifelong student of the English language, takes us on a tour of the world's languages that have contributed words to our own. From each language Metcalf selects and examines a representative word that we have accepted as one of our own and then reports on the culture that produced it. The result is a linguistic tour that demonstrates how English is a world language in more ways than one.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Metcalf, professor of English at MacMurray College and executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, traces words from all over the world right to our back door. Many traveled from their native land directly to America, adopted unchanged--words such as robot (from a Czech short story) or chocolate (from the Mexican drink). But often words took complicated journeys through many different languages, and Metcalf charts their ancestry in a family tree that comes directly (or not so directly) from the Tower of Babel--words such as heathen (from Bulgaria by way of an early Germanic translation of the Gospel of St. Mark) or dynamite (from Sweden by way of ancient Greece). Metcalf provides at least two words from almost every country in the world, divided into large areas (e.g., Europe, Africa). Each section is introduced with a short history; each word is identified by country and includes a brief essay on the development of the word in English and what it means. A good choice for public libraries looking for another browsable word book or filling a gap in ready reference.--Neal Wyatt, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An entertaining and instructive etymological, around-the-world tour of English. Metcalf follows up the recent America in So Many Words (not reviewed), co-authored with prominent linguist David Barnhart. In his witty style and emphasis on semantics more than historical linguistics, Metcalf resembles Safire more than a scholarly Ruhlen, Onions or Skeat. He is usually clever when discussing the backgrounds of foreign words that have won a green card to English, such as "It was a stupid bird"—when discussing the Portuguese meaning of the dodo. Elsewhere, the professor settles for the lowest form of humor: "What's gnu?" or "Boa o boa! You wouldn't want to exchange hugs with an anaconda." The recipe for turning a victim into a zombie and the reasons why the tsetse fly was never beaten are examples of extralinguistic information that make the book enjoyable reading. For pure etymology, however, the author neglects to give us the native meaning of a term more than half the time, and almost always when throwing in several other borrowings from a language in the final paragraph of each entry. In the Virginia Algonquian (Powhatan) entry, for example, the words moccasin, raccoon, opossum, tomahawk, and persimmon are not explained, even though their meanings are more interesting than the locale of their coinage. Some words are common enough to keep the reader intrigued, like amok, bikini, gung ho, java, lingo, and pajamas, but too many words involve animals, cultural terms, foods, or plants that the average reader never encounters. A well-written and -organized book on word origins for the global English speaker.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395959206
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 8.53 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Allan Metcalf is a professor of English at MacMurray College, executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, and author of books on language and writing. His books on language include AMERICA IN SO MANY WORDS (with David K. Barnhart), THE WORLD IN SO MANY WORDS, HOW WE TALK: AMERICAN REGIONAL ENGLISH TODAY, PREDICTING NEW WORDS, and PRESIDENTIAL VOICES. His books on writing include RESEARCH TO THE POINT and ESSENTIALS OF WRITING TO THE POINT. He lives in Jacksonville, Illinois.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Europe 1
Africa 61
Asia 109
Oceania 167
The Americas 199
Indexes 279
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