In The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, Mark Forsyth answers these questions and many more in exploring the fascinating and unpredictable history of etymology. In the preface he describes: “there’s something about etymology and where words come from that overcomes my inbuilt taciturnity”. The book’s title emphasises that it is a “circular stroll” and that is exactly what it is. Small chapters of no more than a page or so are combined to create a flowing effect, to which the reader becomes hooked as if reading a novel rather than a piece of non-fiction.
Forsyth concludes that it is “impossible to guess where a word has come from and where it is going to go”. One interesting excerpt from the book concerns bread. The Old English word for bread was “hlaf” (no, not half as Microsoft Word wants you to think) and from this we get loaf. Traditionally the woman was the bread-maker (hlaf-dige) and the man was the bread guard (hlaf-ward). Bear with me. This, in turn, gave usLord (hlaf-ward changed to hlaford, which in turn evolved into lavord which became Lord). Likewise, hlaf-dige became hlafdi, which evolved into lavedi and then Lady.
If you’re even half interested in where the words and phrases we use today came from, pick up a copy of The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth, for a humorous and thought-provoking ‘stroll’ through the world’s third most natively spoken language.
Alternatively, visit Forsyth's blog: blog.inkyfool.com