Word-perfect Answers to the Most Asked Questions About Language
English has many quirky phrases from around the world. This book explains the meaning and origin of many of the phrases that make English language so rich and versatile.
The origins and meaning of unusual or quirky words and phrases from around the English speaking world are explored by Michael Quinion in Why is Q Always Followed by U? The title also indicates that aspects of the structure of English are also considered
Questions and Answers
Why is Q Always Followed by U? Is organised as a series of questions and answers arranged alphabetically, as might be expected, using the key word of the phrase. The questions are brief and illustrate the context of the use of a phrase and why the questioner was seeking clarification.
The answers vary in length from a couple of paragraphs to several pages and usually include quotations illustrating the phrase in context and earliest published example of its use. Frequently Michael Quinion is able to debunk commonly held views of a words origin – usually over-simple folk reasons and then to provide the correct etymological source.
Etymology – Origins of a Language
Unfortunately and rather frequently he is able to prove the commonly understood origin to be false but is not able to provide a definitive alternative. Often this is often because the phrase is part of the oral tradition and not used in published writing, expletives for example It can also be because it so old the origin is lost in the mists of time. This is inevitable with a language as rich as English with its myriad of linguistic influences.
Those influences continue today with the wide spread of English as first or second language around the world. Many of the examples might be very familiar in their native Australia, say, yet unknown or unusual in England or America. Not just two nations separated by a common language but many! It is just that global communications bring them to the notice of new populations who need a book like Why is Q Always Followed by U? to explain those phrases that are foreign to the reader or listener.
As Quinion says: "Etymology is an inexact science and we often have to say 'we don't know' to a question about word origins".
Etymology Can be Fun
Why is Q Always Followed by U? is wittily written and makes the subject fun but it is also based on solid research with appropriate references. It is a book that can be read from cover to cover or kept to hand and dipped into when the mood demands. In that sense it is a good bed time read but it is a book that provides much more as it forms an invaluable reference for writers and other lovers of language.
Michael Quinion has had a variety of careers starting life as a BBC Radio studio manager, and then a producer, but indulges his lifelong passion for words and language – a love that shows in his writing. He is now an official freelance reader for the Oxford English Dictionary for which he has provided 160,000 citations for new words and phrases. He runs his own language website: World Wide Words