When I wrote Imponderables™, I purposely omitted any questions about the origins of words and phrases. An Imponderable was a mystery that couldn’t be answered by standard reference books, and so many wonderful books about words already existed that I couldn’t believe there was a need for more.
As someone who uses words for a living, I have long wondered why I so effortlessly spew words or clichés whose origins I know nothing about. After being inundated with questions about word and phrase origins from readers of the Imponderables series and callers on talk shows, I realized I was not alone. This book is an attempt to sate your curiosity and mine.
Unlike Imponderables books, which demand original research, this project required what a teacher of mine called “book work.” I’m indebted to the many word-lovers and scholars, from Charles Earle Funk, William Safire, John Ciardi, and William and Mary Morris, to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, for their groundbreaking and often painstaking research. If you are interested in pursuing the fascinating field of etymology, you will find a treasure trove in the bibliography included here.
One reminder that will make this book easier to understand. You will often run into the phrase “first recorded.” Many words start as folk expressions, and it may be decades or even longer before they are committed to print. Scholars use “first recorded” to identify when a given word or phrase was first printed, without denying the possibility that the phrase was used earlier in the spoken language.
If you are itching to find out the story behind the origins of a favorite word or expression that isn’t contained here, the last page of this book will explain how to unburden yourself of the affliction and win a free autographed book as well.
But for now, chill out and keep your hat on.