The English language has great diversity, perhaps nowhere as strong and colourful as across the spread of North America, the largest geographic landmass of English-speaking predominance in the world. Like any living language, the 'standard' is not always the one used in everyday speech and communication. The written language itself has differing standards, all at variance in one form or another from the spoken word. Because of this, much of the language gets lost over time. One of the things that makes novelists like Mark Twain memorable is that they captured elements of the informal language, the spoken language, in their text pages - something fairly rarely done, but something that can resonate with the readers.
Jeffrey Kacirk states in his introduction that it is this lost and vanishing element of the language that he concentrates upon for this book - not a surprise, really, given that the title of this book is 'Forgotten English'. Part of Kacirk's interest came from his upbringing, in which he lived in several different regions of the country, each geographically and linguistically distinct. Kacirk's introduction traces the development of the language in certain ways, including the fact that what are often considered 'Americanisms' often originated in the British Isles, falling out of use there but thriving in North America. With the advent of modern media (talking motion pictures, radio and television), the re-introduction of American speech patterns as both commonplace and acceptable has occurred, with occasional bumps.
The phrases Kacirk has accumulated here include pieces that contain the flavour of life in North America. 'Often containing an abundance of metaphor, simile, and common sense, these distillations of practical experience are easily bandied about by those whose education has not displaced their native intelligence.' These have a tendency to be blended over time into the mainstream, if they survive at all, particularly in an ever more homogeneous media environment. However, language as a living entity continues to grow in wild patches here and there, and Kacirk's collection helps to show some of the more interesting patches in the garden of the English language.
This book is one of several Kacirk has written (another good one is 'Informal English'), all of which illustrate the diversity and vitality of the English language.
on October 12, 2002
Not one to read in large portions, this
unique book is absolutely recommended to anyone
who loves the English language.
Mr. Kacirk has done a wonderful service
to Anglophiles and <Forgotten English>'s virtues
are many. He takes each word separately; gives
a brief historical description; adds a few excerpts
from where the word was used; and polishes it off
with a lovely line illustration (printed in green ink which
makes for a perfect contrast to the black ink of
the text) to give a visual referent to sharpen the
reader's focus. I've seen other books similar
to this (<Curious Words> is an example) but
they usually give you long lists or unnecessary
variations and such, that frankly are tiresome
to read. Not so with <Forgotten Words>, which has
been delivered with perfection. Another
strong point about Kacirk is that
he is a humble man who doesn't
try to wow you with clever anecdotes and provocative
statements, a tendency which mars the work
of Bill Bryson, in his <Mother Tongue> book.
This one is superbly laid out, and a joy to
thumb through (but do it slowly -- quality before quantity)
and should provide no end of joy and satisfaction.
on November 14, 2003
I actually purchased the day calendar that was produced from this book by Jeffrey Kacirk. The information he provides about each word is fascinating and wonderful! However, this is a book full of words that are forgotten for a reason...they are no longer of much use to those living in our times! Some could be used, but most refer to things that are no longer in use, or to issues or items that we no longer have knowledge of. For instance, there are many words that refer to horses as a means of transportation--since we rarely use them in this manner, the words are not functional for our society.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history or etymology, but not to those who, like me, are looking for words to add to their current vocabulary. I enjoy the information, but that enjoyment is soured by my dissapointment in not finding words that I can actually use from day to day.
on January 10, 2000
"Forgotten English" is a delightful look at archaic words, expressions, and the societies that spawned them. The author does not simply define terms, but explains how they arose and what societal customs or beliefs they reflect. If you enjoy this book, you might also like the "Forgotten English" desk calendar.