Book review: ‘The Horologicon’ by Mark Forsyth

November 14, 2012

The Horologicon (“book of hours”) is a reference book. Its author, Mark Forsyth, says so, as does its publisher, Icon Books, who kindly sent me a copy for review. But it is a very unusual reference book – the kind you could read from cover to cover in an evening or two, and would, willingly and happily.

Many books and websites are dedicated to unusual words, but they tend to be arranged alphabetically and glossed minimally, so it can be hard to find the words you want. The Horologicon is structured thematically, which makes it easier to locate a desired word – and you’ll see it supplemented by context and historical notes.

The book’s subtitle, A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language, is a good description of its contents. It runs according to the clock, but lightly and loosely, starting at dawn and taking us through to bedtime. Along the way we are introduced to a fabulous feast of archaic, dialectal, technical, slang, and otherwise little-known words.

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