etymology

Why do we say the things we say? Why is spelling so random? I have always been fascinated by linguistics in general, but especially by the endless vicissitudes of the English language.

Sometime back in the late ’90s I sent an email to the extraordinary Michael Quinion, editor of a then-weekly newsletter called World Wide Words. Much of the content he has built up over the years is published on a website called worldwidewords.org. You can browse the site to get background on many of the words and expressions you may have always wondered about. Anyway, we corresponded, one thing led to another, and we agreed that I would read each issue ahead of publication and provide comments and suggestions. Since Mr. Quinion is British, my particular role was that of American advisory editor, but I mostly felt like a very lucky member of the proverbial peanut gallery.

Until recently I’d only met Michael once in person—I was in the UK on Learning Tree business and we were able to have dinner together—but of course we’ve spend a lot of time working together virtually. In September 2014 we met up with Michael and his lovely wife Betty for a couple of great days in the Salisbury area, touring the city’s iconic cathedral (with one of four extant copies of the Magna Carta on display), nearby Longleat, and Stonehenge with its new visitor center. We enjoyed classic pub cuisine and attended an Alan Ayckbourn play, Bedroom Farce, together.

Toward the end of 2016 Michael decided to step away from etymology. Various things had changed, including his longstanding relationship with the Oxford English Dictionary and some online subscriptions he had had as a result, but mostly he was just feeling pretty burnt out and uninspired. His time has now been freed up to take on some interesting new projects. It’s been my hono(u)r to work with him for nearly 20 years, and we plan to remain in touch as friends.