Occasionally people make the mistake of asking me where a word comes from. They never make this mistake twice… A chap once asked me where the word biscuit came from. He was eating one at the time and had been struck by curiosity.
I explained to him that a biscuit is cooked twice, or in French bi-cuit, and he thanked me for that. So I added that the bi in biscuit is the same bi that you get in bicycle and bisexual, to which he nodded. And then, just because it occurred to me, I told him that the word bisexual wasn’t invented until the 1890s and that it was coined by a psychiatrist called Richard von Krafft-Ebing and did he know that Ebing also invented the word masochism?
He told me firmly that he didn’t.
Did he know about Mr. Masoch, after whom masochism was named? He was a novelist and…
The fellow told me that he didn’t know about Mr. Masoch, that he didn’t want to know about Mr. Masoch, and that his one ambition in life was to eat his biscuit in peace.
(from The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth)
I ASPIRE TO BE MARK FORSYTH
“Writers these days devote their time to research, Shakespeare devoted his to writing. He set a whole play in Venice, apparently unaware that there were any canals there; at least he never mentions any, and whenever the city pops up he refers to it as a land, even though it's in the sea. Shakespeare seems never to have consulted a map [...] After all, fiction is only fact minus time. If the polar ice caps keep melting the sea will, eventually, come to Verona, to Milan and finally to Bergamo. Then the Sun will expand and the Earth, in a few billion years' time, will be a parched and burning rock, and the charred bones of Shakespeare, resting in their grave, will be vindicated because all the canals in Venice will be dry. ”—Mark Forsyth’sThe Etymologicon
“Young people these days are exposed to an almost constant stream of the written word... When I was a lad, in the 1980s, we communicated by phone and watched television. I never wrote a single word to anybody of my own age, except perhaps to pass notes in class... But the internet and the mobile phone have changed all that – despite what you might believe if you read certain newspaper columnists who fulminate against the effects of technology on the written world. ”—Mark Forsyth, author of The Horologicon, The Sunday Times, October 2012.
Once upon a time (1910-89), there was a chap called Robert Pirosh. He was an American chap and in 1934 he decided that he wanted to become a screenwriter. So he went to Hollywood and sent the following application letter to all the studios. Needless to say, he got a job, and later won an Oscar.
Probably the most famous films he worked on were Night at the Opera andDay at the Races.
I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.
I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.
I have just returned and I still like words.
May I have a few with you?
385 Madison Avenue
via Mark Forsyth