Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language, by Mark Forsyth

Mark Forsyth has given us several entertaining books about words, reading, drunkenness, and turning a phrase. He’s a committed fan of dictionaries and this book digs deeply into wonderful words, going even beyond the Oxford English Dictionary into old studies of dialects and specialized books on jargon used in some professions.

It’s the type of book that might best be taken in small bites to learn and take notes, but Forsyth is an interesting enough writer to keep the book entertaining for an end-to-end gulp. To maintain a theme he has divided a day into several parts to collect words into topics like mornings, work, meals, evening entertainments, to bedtime.

Many of these words seem like they’d be incredibly useful even today. Take “Uhtceare” (oot-kee-ar-uh) as an example. Uht is an old word meaning the twilight before dawn, and ceare is a word for cares and sorrow. So now you have a word for that mind-wandering restlessness one does while in bed before the sun rises. If you are a person who manages to be cheerful when waking up, even before coffee, you are “matutinal”, a useful word for people who, for me, can be quite irritating.

Every page is filled with words like this, pulled along with humor by the author. It can almost be overwhelming at times, and I may run through the book again just to make notes on the ones worth making a permanent part of my own vocabulary. It’s a great book for any writer or reader who loves finding a new word while reading.