Word Drops: A Sprinkling of Linguistic Curiosities is inspired by author Paul Anthony Jones’ popular Twitter feed, HaggardHawks. Its blurb proclaims that Word Drops is ‘a language book unlike any other’. In reality, one cannot help but notice it bears an almost striking resemblance to Mark Forsyth’s excellent The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language (review here).
Word Drops provides one thousand ‘linguistic and etymological titbits that all fall together into one long interconnected chain… with each fact neatly “dropping” into place beside the next’. Its ‘smattering of unexpected connections and weird juxtapositions’ is ‘here to inspire your curiosity and delight into discovery’. It also takes into account cultures and historical facts from all over the globe.
Throughout, Jones has included what he terms ‘footnotes’, but they cannot really be described as such; instead, they are paragraphs written in tiny font beneath some of the entries, which further explain or give background to a particular fact). These are often useful, but do detract somewhat from the chain of facts when one has to keep stopping to read them.
Word Drops is easy enough to dip in and out of, and is not too taxing to read in a single sitting either. Some of the facts which Jones has used – more of them than one would expect, really – already sit within the commonplace consciousness of fact finders. Others are thankfully far more quirky and interesting. Of the latter, such intriguing factual titbits as the following are included: ‘Gossamer means “goose-summer”, probably in reference to the similarity of gossamer to goose down’; ‘Shakespeare’s Henry IV: Part 1 contains the earliest recorded use of the words upstairs and downstairs‘; ‘The Russian equivalent of “easier said than done” – blizok lokotok, da ne ukusish – means “your elbow is close, but you can’t bite it”‘; ‘In Middle English, muggle was another name for a fish tail’; and ‘The Scots word tartle refers to the awkward hesitation of having to introduce someone whose name you can’t remember’.
The facts do link into one another quite cleverly in places, and a lot of thought has clearly gone into their ordering and the general structure of the book. We are therefore transported from such facts as ‘To perendinate is to put something off until the day after tomorrow’ to the definition of ‘checkmate’ five entries later, and from ‘In Finland, a poronkusema is the distance a reindeer can travel without stopping to urinate – roughly four and a half miles’, to ‘A quarantine was once the length of time a widow was permitted to remain in her deceased husband’s home’. I found it rather a nice touch that it goes full circle, wherein the final fact links in with the first one, providing quite a fitting end to such a work.
Whilst Word Drops is relatively entertaining, it is not quite as wonderful or as well put together as Forsyth’s aforementioned work. It is a real shame that the book contained a couple of grammatical errors too; rather ironic, given that the whole is a celebration of language.