A couple of books that have been sitting around patiently waiting for me to write about them:
Charles Hodgson, who runs the etymology site podictionary, sent me his new book History of Wine Words: An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology and Word Histories of Wine, Vine, and Grape from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle, whose title and subtitle tell you just what’s in the bottle. Hodgson did a good job on this; he doesn’t settle for folk etymologies or vintners’ myths, he gets the facts if they’re available, and discusses the possibilities if there’s no clear answer. He says, for instance, that the most likely origin of Beaune is “Latin Belena Castro, meaning ‘fortress of Belenos'” (adding that “Belenos was a Gaulish-Celtic god who has been likened to Apollo”), and traces grenache back to the same origin as Vernaccia (probably from Latin vernaculus ‘native, indigenous’). I had at one time thought of doing a book like this myself, but lazy as I am, I much prefer to have someone else do it for me.
Patricia O’Conner, a frequent perpetrator of pop grammar books and proprietor of Grammarphobia.com, has come out with Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language (cowritten with Stewart Kellerman and sent me by the publisher, Random House). The good news is that she’s learned that (as she says in her introduction) “English is all about change,” and she’s much more flexible than your standard fuddy-duddy maven. She has an admirable discussion of ain’t (complete with a lively account of the verbal delights of Dizzy Dean) and explains that the much-maligned “nucular” for nuclear “will one day be considered just another standard pronunciation.” If she retains a whiff of disapproval, that may help her get past the defenses of the disapproving masses. And I learned a good deal of lexical history from her discussion of call a spade a spade—did you know that the “spade” got in there via Erasmus’s mistranslation of Greek skaphē ‘trough’? That’s my idea of fun.