The To-Read Pile

There's an ever growing pile of books I want to read…

Big Review: The Horologicon by Mark Forsyth


Kindle Fire with The Horologicon

Big Review: The Horologicon by Mark Forsyth

I’ll be honest with you folks: I hesitated to write this review. I hemmed and hawed. I wrote and rewrote and edited and erased. I backtracked and got sidetracked but I think that I’ve just got to take a deep breath and get on with it, so here goes nothing.

About this time last year, I read a book called about the origins of modern words called The Etymologicon and loved it. It was a clever and witty take on something I was already enthusiastic about and my love for it was pretty much entirely down to Mark Forsyth’s excellent writing.

I am, in fact, a huge admirer of Mark Forsyth. I bumped into him once signing stock in Waterstones Piccadilly and gushed enthusiastically about his writing. I hope he was pleased but I think it’s a little more likely that he wanted to run away screaming.

When I saw that The Horologicon was available on Netgalley for booksellers and book reviewers, I didn’t even think before I hit the request button. Why would I? Another book by the author of The Etymologicon available to me for free before it was officially published! This is not a decision to waste time over.

I was approved (hooray!) and had it sent to my Kindle (a device that I love but which seems to time its battery depletion with when will prove to be most frustrating for me!) and I began to read.

What I liked:

Mark Forsyth’s writing is just as good in this as I was expecting. He’s eloquent and funny and there’s something beautifully put together about his sentences.

The book is really rather enlightening. I don’t know how it happened that there used to be a word for the horrible experience of stepping on a paving slab and having it tilt and send water up your leg from a hidden puddle underneath but it seems to happen to me so often that I can’t understand how it ever dropped out of common usage.

The structure. The book is organised chronologically through the day with words for the moment you wake up, right through to words for the moment you fall asleep and covers everything that you might encounter during your day.

What I didn’t like:

It wasn’t really an issue and, of course, there’s no way to cater to everyone in every walk of life, but the chapter about the office didn’t really work for me. I don’t work in an office and, although some things are universal, there were words there that weren’t relevant to my life at all.

Unlike The Etymologicon, which I read in one sitting and practically devoured, The Horologicon is best taken in small doses. Mark Forsyth acknowledges this at the beginning of the book so I was forewarned but I still found that I would try to continue reading and then realise that none of the new words were sinking in. It’s a shame as I am a big fan of wallowing in books but not something that would put me off recommending it.


If you enjoy books about words and would like to know the meaning of sponk, fudgel and pingle, you should read this book. It’s well written and entertaining and is good to dip into and out of if you like to read in small doses. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it and I think it would make a great Christmas present for those of the logophile persuasion.


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This entry was posted on December 11, 2012 by in Reviews and tagged , , , .
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