Book review: New Words for Old by Caroline Taggart

When it comes to the English language, its users are never at a loss for words…

Tuesday, 27th October 2015, 9:19 am
New Words for Old by Caroline Taggart
New Words for Old by Caroline Taggart

Indeed, from the word go, our language has adapted and changed, and this is particularly true over the last few decades as technology has not just developed rapidly but become a part of our everyday life.

Fortunately, English is a versatile and agile language and as we invent new things, we have become adept at coming up with names for them. Aspirin, television and dot-com companies are just a few examples of new words for new creations.

But more often than not, it has proved easier to adopt and adapt existing words to suit new purposes, or simply put two together to form a third.

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In her fascinating and enlightening book, wordsmith Caroline Taggart takes a close look at how we have recycled our language for the modern world, revealing centuries of imagination and creativity.

From technology and fashion to politics and music, New Words for Old brings us the story behind some of the words we use every day and how their meanings have changed over time.

Enjoy tracing the development of green from a colour to Shakespeare’s ‘green ey’d jealousy’ and right through to green in the environmental sense. And many will remember when a web was something that spiders made and when trolls were nothing more threatening than the bad guys in Scandinavian fairy tales.

Sometimes we simply put two words together to make a new one… thus an ‘advertorial’ is an advertisement disguised as an editorial feature and ‘emoticon’ is an icon that helps convey the writer’s feelings.

Most of the words featured here are familiar but it is how they arrived at their current meaning that proves so intriguing. A satellite was once a person, rock and roll got its name from the movement of a ship and there was a time when you did your filing by hanging things up on a piece of wire.

Taggart also reveals some entertaining word ironies… for centuries, the purpose of a cell has been to keep people isolated but now a cell phone enables people to keep in touch with each other wherever they go.

Technology, the biggest creator of new words, sometimes gives old words a new twist… discs, domains, forums, hardware and servers have been around for many years but now they all have different meanings.

So whether it’s selfies, mockumentaries and workaholics, or gigs, cabinets and blockbusters, readers will be hanging onto every word in this compelling compendium of extraordinary etymological delights!

(Michael O’Mara, hardback, £9.99)