My cover picture there of Mark Forsyth's book The Etymologicon isn't as clear as it might be, but the subtitle says it all: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, and what lover of words could resist that?
Mark is the author of The Inky Fool blog, and in the book he looks at etymology in an associative way, taking a word full circle through inter-connected chapters, linking terms through their original or common usage, veering off at tangents, and all in a dizzyingly stimulating manner! I've been dipping into the book (which begins, incidentally, with 'book' - though not in the sense you might think - and eventually returns there, some 233 pages later) and finding it as addictive as does Matthew Parris, and I foresee that the quiz questions at the back will be just the thing for the post-Christmas lunch lull, but I'm finding it funny and fascinating and full of facts that take you off along highways and byeways. Here are a few examples:
Why do guns (Mons Meg, Brown Bess, etc.) have girls' names? As Mark Forsyth explains, 'gun' is itself a girl's name. And what has 'gun' to do with the invention of bluetooth technology? You'll have to read the book to find out!
Did you know that if you trample, tootle, wrestle or fizzle, you are being frequentative (see also gruntled/disgruntled).
What is the origin of the phrase 'before you can say Jack Robinson'?
Lots of fun and interest, but one thing I would have liked is an index, both for general use and for returning to specific passages - I happened upon a reference to James Murray the founding editor of the OED, and cannot now find the section, but to digress a moment on that subject, may I strongly recommend Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary by K.M. Elisabeth Murray.
Still on the subject of words and expressions, the following question has come in from Lesley, and as it's not one that I can answer I hope you may be able to do so:
"Late in Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea, R.H. Dana reports on a conversation among some sailors, and one sailor says that he came home and found his wife gone. He says she was 'off, like Bob's horse, with nobody to pay the reckoning'."
Where does that phrase come from? With what is it associated? Has it anything to do with 'Bob's yer uncle'? Lesley says that as far as she knows, the latter didn't gain currency until several years after Dana's book was published, and she also mentions that 'off like Bob's horse ...' turns up in a 1912 novel by Mary Rogers Bangs, but again there's no clue as to its origin or derivation.
Can you help?