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The Word Gossip Has Been Around for Centuries

Hello everyone in the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club. My name is Andrea Elise and I live in Amarillo, Texas.
I would like to recommend two non-fiction books for summer reading. The books are by the same author, Mark Abley, and they explore different aspects of the same topic: language.

Hello everyone in the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club. My name is Andrea Elise and I live in Amarillo, Texas.

I would like to recommend two non-fiction books for summer reading. The books are by the same author, Mark Abley, and they explore different aspects of the same topic: language.

In Camp Fossil Eyes, an adeptly told story through letters to their parents from 15-year-old Jill and her 13-year-old brother, Alex, we learn of the only place in the world where words are fossilized in rock. All of the campers hike from ridge to ridge learning the origins of words.

Many words are from ancient Greece (television, demon, gorilla, catastrophe) to Spain (mosquito, ten-gallon, burrito) to Dutch (booze, pickle, cookie) and so forth.

Did you know that the word “gossip” has been around for over 1,000 years? It began as an Old English word, combining God and sib (sibling). It could also have meant a “God relative,” who would have been close to a trusted friend.

In the 14th century, the word “gossip” morphed into the meaning of any good friend, especially between women who were invited into a mother’s house when she gave birth. By 1600, the word referred to a person who liked to engage in conversation and would pass along rumors and other news.

It was only in the 19th century “gossip” made a bigger leap to mean true or false information contained in rumors; that is, “gossip” stopped being the person who told the stories and became the stories told.

The campers at Camp Fossil Eyes find that even current words like podcast originated hundreds of years ago. The book is beautifully illustrated throughout, and the letters from Jill and Alex are often hilarious and informative.

The second Mark Abley book, Watch Your Tongue, explores the myriad of idioms we use in everyday speech. Most, if not all of us, have heard that English is one of the harder languages to learn because of all the idiomatic expressions we use.

Have you ever counted how many idioms you use in everyday speech?

I doubt that you really paid “an arm and a leg” for that new couch you bought last month. Were felines and canines really falling from the sky when it was “raining cats and dogs” the other day?

Using examples from well before Shakespeare all the way to Twitter, Abley shares samples of the eccentric ways we play with, parse, and pattern language.

He dives into the history and psychology behind our idioms, unpacking their significance to show how our language developed, where it is headed, and what we can learn about ourselves from it.

He states that idioms express a relationship, and that relationship needs to be with each other. A phrase becomes idiomatic only when it catches a mood or sentiment that has been felt by many people. Idioms are central to the music of language.

Whether you are interested in the etymology of words or how an idiom takes shape, read Mark Abley. He will inform and entertain you both at once. How many current non-fictions writers have that kind of talent?

This is Andrea Elise for the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.

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Summer Read 2022: Summer Reading List 2022 Summer ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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