Around the World in 80 Words: A Journey Through the English Language by Paul Anthony Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Continuing on with my quest to allow Dr Oliver Tearle of Interesting Literature fame to bankrupt me, this review is as a direct result of his own review of the book which you can read for yourself. Despite an ever-increasing to-read list, Tearle manages to pique my interest more often than not. As usual, his choices are excellent.
Paul Anthony Jones is a master craftsman in my opinion. When it comes to non-fiction and trivia, he’s an absolute joy to read. Witty, to the point and accurate (yes, I did spend time googling some of the facts he presented to check) I have repeatedly bored my family and any other poor sod who happened to be around at the time with endless recounting of how we came by words such as cayenne pepper, bikini, bedlam, dollar, copper and…buggery (yes, really)…among many others.
Jones has the rare ability of the likes of Bill Bryson and Mark Forsyth to be funny without being smarmy. Each chapter is very short and easy to read yet packed with both good humour and fascinating information that you find yourself needing to read again to try and remember it all (for the aforementioned repeating ad nauseam to others). If you’re like me you continuously think, as you’re reading, ‘I’ve got to tell people this one’ – and you will.
Furthermore, though in theory you learn about just 80 words or expressions, in reality, Jones adds in many extra words too (under the guise of saying he’s not going to talk about them) and his footnotes are every bit as interesting the main text (indeed, he throws an ‘eighty-first’ word story in his final footnote). I didn’t count up (clearly I’m a sad man, but not that sad) but I would guess you will actually learn around 160-200 word origins in all.
Initially, I was worried by the quantity of words and phrases either little known or no longer in use. Who has heard of words like zabernism, ampster, donnybrook or Newcastle programme (the one piece of information I failed to validate through Google as it seems only the author has heard of that one)? And why should we care? I can tell you that even these chapters are well worth a read. It isn’t just interesting trivia you’re learning – it’s history, and history is always worth learning from.
If you’re a trivia fan, or have one who is special in your life with a birthday coming up, this is a perfect treat. Beautifully crafted in design and with every sentence executed with aplomb, I find it hard to imagine any ‘lifelong learner’ or fan of words – or even just fan of other countries and cultures – failing to thoroughly enjoy this round-the-world trip.
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Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.