Unusual Words and How They Came About

Unusual Words and How They Came About

Unusual Words and How They Came About

Unusual Words and How They Came About

Excerpt

FOR GENERATIONS English-speaking people have been pulling to pieces the words of their language and refitting them into other words explanatory of some current event; displaying in so doing an impish wit, a clever cynicism, or a delightful turn of improvisation. A generation passed away, but the new words remained. A new generation practiced their use in the circumstances for which they were designed, without appreciating the reason for the coining. In time the words, frequently corrupted in spelling as the result of phonetic handing-down, became part of the colloquial language.

Then, the inevitable happened. Inquiring minds began to wonder why their tongues used the phrases; they wondered why, as a matter of course, someone was "as mad as a hatter." Why should a good honest hatter be regarded as more prone to mental deficiency than, say, a tailor? Of recent years the demand for knowledge of the origin of the host of phrases which are now a part of the language, and of the many single words which seem outré in use, has grown enormously.

For some years the author has edited that popular featurecolumn of the Daily Mirror, titled Live Letters. During that time thousands of letters demanding "origins" have been answered, and are still being answered daily.

The object of the present work is to make available to the bookshelves of people of ordinary means an arranged collection in a single volume of the principal proverbial "tags," phrases and words which have formed the subject of inquiries of the author over a space of years, together with their origins or derivations.

The explanations given have been penned only after the most complete research; a reference library of some two thousand volumes forming in itself a complete story of the customs, speech, life and anecdotal history of the English-speaking people over six centuries, has gone into the searching. No attempt has been made to include those numerous phrases and words in common usage which have merely grown into the language as slang, without any etymological foundation; explanations of such words and phrases already exist . . .

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