David Profumo

Poking The Octupus

The Untranslatables: The Most Intriguing Words from Around the World

By

Chambers Harrap 127pp £8.99 order from our bookshop

The good old English language enjoys a famously unstable vocabulary and an astonishing history of borrowing words from abroad. In Chaucer’s time, foreign loans accounted for practically half the lingo – and today that figure may be half as much again. Every time another dictionary appears, some logologists express their horror at the welter of new terms admitted, but, as prescriptive linguists since the time of Swift and Johnson have realised, any attempt to constrain and confine our mother tongue is like trying to cram a live octopus into a carry-on bag.

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