Random Review

The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English cover image

These days, it is common to lament the spread and dominance of English, the way its uncouth touch corrupts and infects other languages. Yet it’s no secret that English is a prolific thief when it comes to words. Henry Hitchings explores this phenomenon in The Secret Life of Words, where he examines how the encounters between people who speak English and people who speak other languages have shaped and influenced English over its long history. Along the way, he spouts a veritable fountain of words cribbed from abroad. Thanks to those years of French class, I knew that souvenir is from French, and I was even aware that swastika comes to us via Hindi. But I didn’t know that gambit is from Italian, mattress from Arabic, and nephew is a Norman alternative to the Saxon brothorsunu. I also discovered while reading that totem, a word we Canadians might associate more with the totem poles of British Columbia, is actually from Ojibwe, a people closer to my neck of the woods. Hitchings also makes…

Why I Read

Mostly for entertainment and edification. Reading is fun, and reading is a great way to learn. Although I indulge in television, movies, and video games, reading is my favourite way to relax. With a book, I can experience the story at my own pace, moving faster or slower as my interest demands. Books offer an infinite canvas for the imagination of both the author and the audience; with books, anything is possible.

What I Read

Everything! Well, almost. I try to read as widely as possible in recognition of the fact that genres are more of a marketing label than an adequate way to categorize books. But I have some favourite areas of fiction and non-fiction, and there are areas I avoid.

When I first began reading on my own, I devoured mysteries: Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Agathie Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle. Then I discovered science fiction and fantasy, and those remain my favourite genres today. I still delve into mysteries, historical fiction, and a variety in between, but science fiction and fantasy are my mainstays. For non-fiction, I mostly read books about science and technology. In particular, I love books about the history and philosophy of science, technology, or mathematics.

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