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PSIPOOK | books | port out, starboard home, michael quinion

not posh at all
Title: Port Out, Starboard Home
Author: Michael Quinion
Publisher: Penguin
Price: ¥1,449
ISBN: 0-14-101223-4

Finally, after 43 years of fretting, I can get some sleep. The insomnia-inducing issue has been baffling humanity for much longer — perhaps 160 years. The matter has been energetically debated across nations, in pubs and universities, and has spawned dozens of theories, all of them now proven complete bunk. The truth is, it came from Old Kinderhook in the Hudson Valley. What did? OK did. OK stands, not for oll korrect, or okah, or olla kolla, or even och aye, OK came from Old Kinderhook, which is where the 1840 US presidential candidate Martin Van Buren was born. The term OK was apparently used as a sort of insiders catch phrase by Van Buren’s supporters and in the intervening 160-odd years has spread like a slow, benign virus into conversation in English, German, Greek, Czech, Chinese and Japanese. The discovery was made through diligent research by a man named Allen Walker Read, who didn’t write the book under review here. However, the account of this epic quest for etymological satisfaction is reported in Port Out, Starboard Home by Michael Quinion. The history of the debate and the competing theories are all laid out and then Quinion succinctly demonstrates why Read is right.

This is only one of the neat things you learn from this book, which is a tour through the etymologies of dozens of common expressions. As Quinion goes, he explodes myths and sets the record straight.

Golf is not an acronym of Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden. That was apparently an Edwardian joke. You gotta hand it to those Edwardians for their sense of humour. Golf apparently comes from a Dutch word, kolfe, meaning club. Yankee comes from the Dutch surname Janke, which was common around New York once upon a time.

I can tell you are fascinated already. You won’t be able to get your head out of the actual book.

Kansai Scene, October 2005

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By the way, have you read Chris Page's novel Weed? It really is rather fantastic.

Words of praise for Weed from a publisher in London.

"... it’s really witty and very strong ... I would compare the writing to Robert Rankin, or a really satirically biting Tom Sharpe, and will say again that I’m really impressed by it"



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