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Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to Do with Pigs
And Other Fascinating Facts about the Language from Canada's Word Lady

Barber, Katherine
Publisher:  Oxford University Press, Canada
Year Published:  2006  
Pages:  224pp   Price:  $24.95   ISBN:  0-19-542440-9

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Katherine Barber is Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Dictionary Department at Oxford University Press in Toronto, frequently appearing on Canadian TV and radio (see also Dent above). Unlike Dent, though, Barber sticks to the history of older words - about 500 of them. She has been known on the CBC as the "Word Lady", and indeed this book is based on that gig. She organizes them by season and then thematically within (e.g., Winter has words associated with the flu season, New Year's, Christmas, pension planning; Spring is all Easter, taxes and cottages). Themes may be Canadian but the words are all international English. Her popular etymologies hark back to Mediaeval French, Anglo-Saxon, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Asiatic and Canadian aboriginal origins. The word "mitten" for example comes from Provencal, "maven" from Yiddish, "hooch" from Tlingit, and "chipmunk" from Ojibwa. There is an index to the specific words.
Audience or interest level: word freaks, general reference.
Some interesting facts: The word "soil" is associated with pigs. In modern French, the verb "souiller" means to make dirty, a corruption of the Latin verb "suculare" which is derived from "suculus", meaning a little pig (as in suckling pig). Yet she has no mention of the widely-known phrase "soo-yi-lee" which is used in pig calling and pig-calling contests.
What I don't like about this resource (its shortcomings): there are some typos (a contents reference to RRSPs should be 207). Also, try looking up "pigs" in the index in order to find the six words alluded to in the book's title. You won't find it. You have to see farm stuff under Spring in the contents page and then go to that chapter and poke around.
What I do like about this resource (its positives): there are indexes to the words described and to the languages from which they are derived.
Quality-to-Price Ratio: 90

[Review by Dean Tudor]


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