The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English

Author(s): Henry Hitchings

Writing & Reading

Communication is essential to our lives, but how often do we stop to think about where the words we use have come from? Have you ever thought about which words in English have been borrowed from Arabic, French or Dutch? Try admiral, landscape and marmalade just for starters. The Secret Life of Words is a wide-ranging account not only of the history of English, but also of how words witness history, reflect social change and remind us of our turbulent past. Henry Hitchings delves into our promiscuous language and reveals how and why it has absorbed words from more than 350 other languages many originating from the most unlikely of places, such as shampoo from Hindi and kiosk from Turkish. From the Norman Conquest to the present day, Hitchings narrates the story of English as an archive of our human experience and uncovers the secrets behind everyday words. This is a celebration of our language; after reading it, you will never again take the words we use for granted.Winner John Llewellyn Rhys Prize 2008.


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Winner of John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize 2008 and Somerset Maugham Award 2009.

'Hitching's excavation are a treat. He presents the best gleanings of academia in a winning, conversational style. Almost every spadeful yields an etymological nugget ... elegantly and entertainingly written' -- Financial Times 'A fascinating exploration of the rich borrowings, exchanges and couplings of the language' -- Ben Macintyre, The Times 'Hitchings has teased out the stories lurking behind the language to provide a most satisfying whole' -- Publishing News 'Much more than a collage of etymological trivia, this is a dense and thorough excavation of the stories that lie behind the words we say' -- Metro 'Quite how Hitchings has managed to wrestle this dizzying mountain of dense information into such an elegant narrative ... is a feat almost as admirable as that of the great lexicographer. His book is painstakingly detailed, closely argued and suffused with a contagious enthusiasm for the secrets woven into the fabric of our words -- Daily Telegraph

Henry Hitchings was born in 1974. Educated at the universities of Oxford and London, he wrote his doctoral thesis on Samuel Johnson; his book, Dr Johnson's Dictionary", was published by John Murray in 2005. Henry Hitchings has also contributed to many newspapers and magazines.

General Fields

  • : 9780719564550
  • : Hodder & Stoughton
  • : John Murray
  • : April 2009
  • : United Kingdom
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Henry Hitchings
  • : Paperback
  • : 420.9
  • : 448