Why do good things cut the mustard? Who or what was the real Real McCoy? And why do we call false sentiment crocodile tears? Can crocodiles really cry?
In What Made the Crocodile Cry?, Susie Dent draws on her popular television segment on the curiosities of English to tackle these and many other fascinating puzzles. Writing with her customary charm and erudition, Dent offers a wonderfully readable and endlessly entertaining exploration of language, answering 101 of the most intriguing questions about the English language, from word origins and spelling to grammar and usage. Dent ranges far and wide in her search for the oddities of language, pondering the ancient origin of the word "tragedy" (which originally meant "goat song" in Greek) as well as the modern meaning of the word "donk" in the Blackout Crew's song title "Put a Donk in It." And throughout, the book brims with fascinating tales. Readers learn, for instance, that the word "bankrupt" comes from the Italian "banca rotta" or " broken bench" and the word "broke" (meaning "out of funds") has the same origin. Dent explains that in the sixteenth century, money lenders conducted their business on benches outdoors and the usual Italian word for "bench" was "banca" (hence today's "bank"). The author also provides an entertaining account of the origin of the term "white elephant" (meaning "a useless, burdensome possession") that dates back to ancient Siam, where rare white elephants were always given to the king. But since by law white elephants couldn't be worked (and earn money) or even be ridden, the king often re-gifted these worthless burdens to courtiers whom he didn't like.
Sparkling with insight and linguistic curiosity, this delightful compendium will be irresistible to anyone fascinated with languagethe perfect gift for word lovers everywhere.