Pros:Diverse selection of common and not-so-common words featured.
Cons:More than a bit stuffy and pedantic; 'tough reading' to plow through.
The Bottom Line: Not the 'fun read' its title seems to imply. That said, still of value to the reader looking for serious etymological information about a wide variety of words.
Main Entry: 1. an·tic Pronunciation: \ˈan-tik\
Etymology: Italian antico ancient thing or person, from antico ancient, from Latin antiquus — more at antique
1 : an attention-drawing often wildly playful or funny act or action : caper <childish antics>
Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning seems to promise a rip-roaring ride through the history of the words featured in its three hundred and some entries. Spread over 250 entry pages of this book the reader instead finds very little 'wildly playful' content. The reader instead finds entry after entry that seem more dry etymological dust than fun, delightful confection.
In early Middle English (around 1200), sely (as the word was then spelled) meant "happy, blissful, blessed, fortunate," as it did in Old English. Old English sæli "happy, blissful." developed from a Germanic base represented also by Old High German sálig (Modern German selig) "happy." This meaning lasted into the late 1400s, as in "For sely is that death ...that ...endeth pain" (around 1374, Chaucer, Troylus and Criseyde).
Gawd, just pluck my fingernails out, stake me over an anthill and pour honey all over me. At times it seems reading Semantic Antics could not be less painful than that imagined scenario.
I should note that the above represents only about a third of the entry for 'silly'. The rest is a bit more narrative explanation of the word and its use over the centuries. But in no way does the additional content ameliorate the suffering noted above. This pattern is followed for virtually every entry in the book.
If you, as a writer, cannot make discussing the word 'silly' entertaining (while still being informative), what are you going to do when you get to fastidious, ludicrous, or sanguine..?? Ooh, ooh ...I know..!! You are going to make every entry as pedantic and lifeless as the entry for 'silly'.
Semantic Antics is not without value for the serious reader. The book is rife with citations from the earliest uses of the featured words and their root word(s). A brief Introduction covers the general models for how words change and the various influences over the years that help explain why meanings change. Often dual meanings of a word will struggle through the years (and even centuries) until one meaning predominates. The entries explore these 'growing pains' in detail.
A helpful Glossary of Names and Terms and a listing of Frequently Consulted Sources finish out the book
With two or three entries per turn of the page, this seemed like it would be a quick read. Instead, I found myself struggling through many of the entries, focusing more intently than I wanted to for brief lunch-hour reading times.
The Bottom Line
If you are interested in learning specific facts about specific words, Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning might be a good choice for you.
But if you are simply looking for some light reading (as I insist the title seems to promise) then you might want to pass on this one.
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