The Horologicon by Mark Forsyth – Book Review

Mark Forsyth’s non-fiction books are a treat. Erudite jaunts through the origins of the English language, every one of Forsyth’s works has been accompanied with hours of laughter, and The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language is no different. It doesn’t quite measure up to my memory of The Elements of Eloquence but it’s a different book, one attempting to unearth to lost and forgotten words in the English language, many of which are beyond specific; little wonder they’ve gone out of vogue. That said, more than a few of the words and expressions Forsyth drags back from obscurity are of semantic value–it’s a shame that know-it-alls are no longer defined as ultracrepidarian (“presumptuous, offering advice or opinions beyond one’s sphere of knowledge”), or that vampires nowadays aren’t called out for being lucifigus!

Forsyth here makes certain that you’ve got a word for every hour of the day, and for nearly every occasion. With careful study of the lexicong for each and every hour of the day, you might even master the art of sprezzatura, or “studied carelessness,” which Forsyth himself exhibits with such apparent effortlessness, clever chap that he is. The connective tissue from one word to the next is not quite as tight as it is in those wonderful interconnected musings on all manner of words in the Etymologicon, but the same humour is at display, and that’s what Not a moment of dullness was had in my listening of the audiobook, voiced by the very talented Simon Shepherd. Someone on the book’s production side did an “oopsie,” however, and failed to edit out a few false starts made by Shepherd–no fault of the narrator, of course, but a small annoyance that pulled me out of the experience towards the final two hours or so of the audiobook.

Other than that one pesky element, The Horologicon was a joy to experience, and another piece of non-fiction I’ll be sure to revisit when next I feel pekish for English’s obscure lexicon of the yesteryear.

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