Cover image for The world in so many words : a country-by-country tour of words that have shaped our language
The world in so many words : a country-by-country tour of words that have shaped our language
Metcalf, Allan A.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [1999]

Physical Description:
xviii, 298 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes indexes.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PE1582.A3 M48 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"Biblically speaking, the first paradise was the Garden of Eden. But linguistically speaking, it was a Persian amusement park. Or, more precisely, it was the walled park of a Persian ruler or noble, observed more than two thousand years ago by a young Greek named Xenophon." Allan A. Metcalf shows us paradise and a whole lot more in his whirlwind tour of languages that have made contributions to our own. Starting in Europe, the original home of English, he takes us around the world, country by country, language by language. We see a geyser in Iceland, take a siesta in Spain, and receive justice in Italy. In Africa we feel the warm harmarttan wind, visit an Egyptian oasis, and learn about mysterious voodoo. We travel to northern India, where we seek the elusive goat antelope called the serow; to icy Tibet, where the even more elusive yeti dwells unseen among the rocks; to Tahiti, where we get a tattoo; to Samoa, where we are shown how to cover it up with a lavalava. We encounter buccaneers from Brazil and Paraguay, caciques from Guyana and Surinam, bunyips from Australia, and zombies from Congo. As experienced on Metcalf's tour, the English language is more wonderful and exotic than you've ever imagined -- a truly multicultural language for a multicultural world.

Author Notes

Allan Metcalf is a professor of English at MacMurray College & the author of "The World in So Many Words," "Chicano English," "Research to the Point," & (with David K. Barnhart) "America in So Many Words." He has done extensive research on the language of California & is executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, whose newsletter he has edited for many years. He lives in Jacksonville, Illinois.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Like Americans, the words in our language come from all over. Metcalf talks about English words as immigrants, capturing the multicultural richness of our linguistic heritage. His tour of the wide world of English begins with the European imports, including such familiar friends as pal, from Romani, as well as the more exotic muffuletta, the name of a New Orleans sandwich made on Sicilian bread. The next stop is Africa, which donated the language of black slaves--got 'cher mojo workin'?--then on to Asia, from Persia's paradise to Siberia's shaman. The author also celebrates the contributions of Oceania and Native America. Starting at the boondocks (Tagalog), words arrived from across the South Seas (tattoo, lavalava), while Native Americans enriched us with the likes of chocolate and succotash. In clear language, Metcalf explains word histories and language families, but this is not really a book for the language specialist. It's for the word lover who deserves a good frolic with the language. --Philip Herbst

Library Journal Review

Metcalf, professor of English at MacMurray College and executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, traces words from all over the world right to our back door. Many traveled from their native land directly to America, adopted unchangedÄwords such as robot (from a Czech short story) or chocolate (from the Mexican drink). But often words took complicated journeys through many different languages, and Metcalf charts their ancestry in a family tree that comes directly (or not so directly) from the Tower of BabelÄwords such as heathen (from Bulgaria by way of an early Germanic translation of the Gospel of St. Mark) or dynamite (from Sweden by way of ancient Greece). Metcalf provides at least two words from almost every country in the world, divided into large areas (e.g., Europe, Africa). Each section is introduced with a short history; each word is identified by country and includes a brief essay on the development of the word in English and what it means. A good choice for public libraries looking for another browsable word book or filling a gap in ready reference.ÄNeal Wyatt, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.