Origin Uncertain

Origin Uncertain
Lost origins of words revealed.

We like to recount that goodbye started out as "god be with you," that whiskey comes from the Gaelic for "water of life," or that avocado originated as the Aztec word for "testicle." But there are many words with origins unknown, disputed, or so buried in old journals that they may as well be lost to the general public. In Origin Uncertain: Unraveling the Mysteries of Etymology, eminent etymologist Anatoly Liberman draws on his professional expertise and etymological database to tell the stories of less understood words such as nerd, fake, ain't, hitchhike, trash, curmudgeon, and quiz, as well as puzzling idioms like kick the bucket and pay through the nose. By casting a net so broadly, the book addresses language history, language usage (including grammar), history (both ancient and modern), religion, superstitions, and material culture.

Writing in the spirit of adventure through the annals of word origins, Liberman also shows how historical linguists construct etymologies, how to evaluate competing explanations, and how to pursue further research.

Publication Date: 
April 1, 2024