The Painted Word: A Treasure Chest of Remarkable Words and Their Origins

The Painted Word: A Treasure Chest of Remarkable Words and Their Origins

by Phil Cousineau

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To untangle the knot of interlocking meanings of these painted words, logophile and mythologist Phil Cousineau begins each fascinating word entry with his own brief definition. He then fills it in with a tint of etymology and a smattering of quotes that show how the word is used, ending with a list of companion words. The words themselves range from commonplace — like biscuit, a twice-baked cake for Roman soldiers — to loanwords including chaparral, from the Basque shepherds who came to the American West; words from myths, such as hector; metamorphosis words, like silly, which evolved holy to goofy in a mere thousand years; and words well worthy of revival, such as carrytale, a wandering storyteller. Whether old-fangled or brand new, all the words included in The Painted Word possess an ineffable quality that makes them luminous.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781936740253
Publisher: Viva Editions
Publication date: 09/11/2012
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 911,169
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

PHIL COUSINEAU is a freelance writer, filmmaker, photographer, art and literary tour leader, creativity consultant, flâneur, and nyctophiliac, a lifelong lover of the night. Cousineau has published over thirty books, which have been translated into numerous languages; earned twenty-five documentary film writing credits; and contributed to 50 other books. His previous books include Wordcatcher, which was named one of the Top Ten Books of the Year by NPR, and The Painted Word. Currently, he is the host and cowriter of the much-acclaimed television series “Global Spirit,” which plays nationwide on PBS, and worldwide at Global Spirit offers insights into some of humankind’s deepest eternal questions, tracing our collective journey in the timeless quest for truth, wisdom and understanding. Each program highlights the trans-cultural, transcendent dimensions of human inquiry, from the ancient or indigenous wisdom traditions to the latest advances in science. Global Spirit offers a glimmer of what's possible. Phil also guest-hosts the radio show New Dimensions. He lives with his family in the land of nighthawks, North Beach, San Francisco. For more information about Cousineau’s books, films, lectures, workshops, writing consultations, and art and literary tours, visit

Read an Excerpt

The Story of the Word "Dictionary"

Around 1225, a twenty-five-year-old English grammarian by the name of Joannes de Garlandia (John E. Garland) was teaching Latin at the University of Paris and looking for a way to help his students learn their vocabulary. In the 13th century, university rules mandated that not just all classes, but all conversation between students and teachers, be carried out in the old Roman language. To help his students, Garland devised a mobile aide-de memoire based on an imaginary walk through the labyrinthine lanes of the teeming city while listing the various things encountered along the way.
Uncannily, his innovation was both an echo of the peripatetic or walking schools of ancient Greece, and a precursor of flanerie in modern Paris, the art of strolling in search of serendipitous encounters. His dictionary began with a daring naming of the parts of the human body before moving to the city, where he named the various and sundry shops, stalls, trades and tradesmen, before moving on to the countryside, where he named the animals of the forests, and then finally coming home to his own garden.
Out of these learned but entertaining strolls came the Dictionarius, a word Garland conjured up out of his prodigious knowledge of Latin, from diction, words, and the suffix -arius, to do with or pertaining to, hence the concise title for a book simply about words. The medieval scholar Barbara Blatt Rubin describes in the introduction to her 1981 translation of Garland’s pilgrimage of words that he wrote “in a delightfully discursive manner” for his students and future readers. Garland’s own description was that the book simply consisted of things “which I have noted down as I wandered through the city of Paris… the most necessary words which every student needs to keep … in order to obtain an easier command of speech.”
The most necessary words. An apt phrase for the kind of book many of us have found necessary ever since, meaning we can’t seem to live without one. Necessary words is also a way to describe what follows in this book. The story is included here as a tribute to the prodigiously clever inventor of the Dictionarius, and also because it is a metaphor for the profoundly human need to name the world around us, and as colorfully and clearly as possible. When Garland described his effort he wrote that it was a presentation to his students of “the names of things.” Nearly eight hundred years later our passion for naming is still the pounding heart of wordbooks. Garland’s story reminds us that if we name the things of the world we can rest assured that words count when they endure. I am unregenerate enough to favor the named over the unnamed, the acknowledged over the ignored, the word over the silence.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Reading this book, with its staggering vocabulary, requires an almost excessive amount of attention, but for an avid wordsmith it’s worth the effort. Cousineau introduces quirky words (often about which a reader can’t help but think, “There’s actually a word for that?”) as well as ordinary ones that have curious pasts. He delivers them all with the enthusiasm of an explorer on the verge of profound discovery, and a wicked sense of humor. The Painted Word is a selective dictionary unleashed and gone wild."
—Portland Book Review

"But this isn’t simply a collection of evocative and uncommon words; it’s a testament to the vibrant, ever-evolving nature of language. The shift of usage, definition, and popularity for hundreds of words over the centuries provides fascinating insight into the culture of a given time period, especially what was interesting, important, and frivolous at the time. It’s a time capsule and tribute all at once, hoping to fuel a fellow verbivore’s linguistic delights or to spark a love of the language’s highways, byways, and dirt roads. On all accounts, The Painted Word is a joyous success."
–The San Francisco Book Review

"The English language has been far from pure, as speakers have taken languages from anything and everything they encounter. The Painted Word: A Treasure Chest of Remarkable Words and Their Origins explores the origins of many words we use, and their evolution throughout history. From compound words that become simply words, loan words, and how words lost all meaning to pick up another one entirely. The Painted Word is a worthy addition to any language studies reference collection, recommended."
—Kristin L. Arola & Anne Frances Wysocki, eds, Utah State University Press

"Reading the pages of this beguiling paperback, we sense Cousineau's delight and enthusiasm for words and their ability to enchant and mesmerize. The set-up is sharing a special word, delivering a short essay on it, and then listing companion words that are close to it. Some of our favorite entries are ensorcell (to bewitch or enchant), fathom (to understand the depths), flabbergast (to astonish), flamboyant (theatrical), gloaming (twilight), plucky (courageous), and voluptuous (desirable). Pass The Painted Word on to your friends or family members who love books in the way Kenko does: "The pleasantest of all diversions is to sit alone under the lamp, a book spread out before you, and to make friends with people of a distant past you have never known.""
—Spirituality and Practice

"Reading The Painted Word, with its staggering vocabulary, requires an almost excessive amount of attention, but for an avid wordsmith it’s worth the effort. Cousineau introduces quirky words (often about which a reader can’t help but think, “There’s actually a word for that?”) as well as ordinary ones that have curious pasts. He delivers them all with the enthusiasm of an explorer on the verge of profound discovery, and a wicked sense of humor. The Painted Word is a selective dictionary unleashed and gone wild."
–Portland Book Review

"Fun, fiasco, pandemonium, checkmate, swashbuckler, ubuntu, dromomania…do you know the stories behind these words? Phil does and he shares these and hundreds of other words in his latest book."
—Radio Alice

“A mystagogue, a carrytale and a thaumaturge, Cousineau makes us Argus-eyed to the ubuntu of the aprocryphal and Gemutlichkeit it provides, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you definitely need this book.”
—Lemony Snicket

"For most of our busy lives words are mere tools. Not so with The Painted Word. Here, they're not mechanisms or background music, they're the beloved riffs of favorite songs mesmerizingly amplified through borrowed speakers. So you find yourself sitting a while and really listening to nuances you have never quite heard before. I sat a very long while with Phil's inspiring collection of words and the unexpected commonness of so many of them made the finery of their generously-revealed attributes all the more spellbinding."
—Simon Hertnon, author of Endangered Words

"When Phil Cousineau and Gregg Chadwick join creative forces it is an important event. This historic collaboration shines with fresh insights into both language and art."
— Alexander Eliot, author of 300 Years of American Painting and The Global Myths

"If The Painted Word were a club act, I'd sit there drinking in Cousineau's revelations, tales and mythologies until they kicked me out of the joint. Reading this brew of etymology, history, lore, and pop connections, with lambent illustrations by Gregg Chadwick, is just as intoxicating. A Cousineau riff on a (passionately selected) word is like Mark Twain meets Coleridge meets Casey Stengel meets—-well, everyone who's fun and informative, whether the riff is on autologophagist (someone who eats his/her words) or jack, which, believe me, the world-traveled Cousineau knows when it comes to language. "
—Arthur Plotnik, author of The Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts Into Words

"Phil Cousineau’s The Painted Word is a gift to anyone who loves words. From bafflegab and bloviate to skirl and snollygoster, Cousineau builds a “carousel of words” that will infuse any reader’s vocabulary with new life."
—Kate Hopper, author of Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers

"This historic collaboration of writer Phil Cousineau and artist Gregg Chadwick shines with fresh insights.
— Alexander Eliot, author of 300 Years of American Painting and The Global Myths

"The Painted Word is Phil Cousineau's Pointilist Portrait of the Artist As A Mirror of His Words. From the Yiddish roots of Copasetic to the cracked art of Craqueleur, Cousineau's latest Portrait of Our Language is his own warmly personal Rembrandt masterpiece!"
—Alan Kaufman, author of Drunken Angel; Editor, The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry

"This delectable banquet of words in The Painted Word is a welcome antidote to the bland and pallid pablum that too often passes for language nowadays."
— John Michael Greer, author of Apocalypse Not

"Phil Cousineau takes us on an insightful journey to discover the essence of ideas that form our thoughts and feelings. It’s a masterful detective story that crosses continents and centuries to uncover the meaning behind the core elements of our own culture. He reveals how everyday words developed from mythic metaphors, and how many fantastic concepts sprang from hilariously mundane things. Words are how our minds make pictures. The book paints a fascinating landscape of how the history of these tools of thought helps us make sense of the world we live in, and ourselves."
—Jeff Hoke, author of The Museum of Lost Wonder

The masterfulness of The Painted Word is its re-telling of lost tales, illustrating the absurdities, tragedies and comedies of words—all through Cousineau’s detailed, cinematic storytelling, which includes babbling parrots, bawdy 18th Century lairs, pirate Bugis of ferocious seas, and hundreds of other word stories."
—Nick Belardes, author of Random Obsessions: Trivia You Can't Life Without

"Having opened the treasure chest that is language in Wordcatcher, Cousineau joins us in plunging our hands deep into its riches and tossing glittering coins — "Carousel! Monogashi! "— high in the air. The Painted Word is a celebration that brings the glamour back to grammar."
—Clint Marsh, author of The Mentalist's Handbook

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The Painted Word: A Treasure Chest of Remarkable Words and Their Origins 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a fan of Phil Cousineau's PBS TV show GLOBAL SPIRIT so I am now checking out his books. This author most certainly has a way with words and I feel smarter just owning the book. This history and mystery of words is certainly explored to the fullest.  One of my favorite new bits of trivia is that the OED, long regarded as the ultimate reference for language etymology, got a few things wrong, thanks to Phil Cousineau's  linguistic sleuthing.  Read this book before you go to your next party and you will dazzle all who listen and learn!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a clever book that is a non-stop page turner due to the curiosity that sparks from learning the roots of common words to words you'd never knew to use, but now you want to stuff them into every sentence.
Scarlet_Slept More than 1 year ago
I love words more than I can say, and I've been waiting my whole life for a book like this one! It's the sort of book that you could read cover to cover, or simply leaf through at random on the train. Surprising, at at times hilarious, this book introduced me to a plethora of new words, and I usually consider myself to be fairly erudite.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is simply fascinating. With the origins, definitions, changed connotations, and mysterious fictions behind each word provided, Phil Cousineau piques the interest of readers, even those with no interest in words! I thought this book was captivating and engaging; with an eye for irony and humor in words, Cousineau takes our understanding of vocabulary to the next level! If you don't already keep a journal of words or phrases you like, this book will make you want to start on! I would recommend this book to anyone; it's good for on the go reading or to set on your "throne" when you need something to last you for a bit. The entries are short and easily readable, and always interesting.
YGK More than 1 year ago
The Painted Word is an extremely interesting book for the curious mind. There are all types of words with elaborate explanations of their meanings and etymologies that will quench any thirst for knowledge. It makes a great gift and a great book to just have on your nightstand to thumb through every now and then.