Books Read, 2013

As I posted for 2011 and 2012, here is a list of books I’ve read over the past year.

Asterisks mark those that are re-reads.

Ælfric, various homilies and hagiographies

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virus, viral

Virus is a word that has evolved alongside the evolution in medical knowledge; before the twentieth century a virus was something quite different from the microorganisms we assign the name to today, and even more recently the word has broken the bounds of biology and infected the realm of silicon and circuits.

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55 Canadianisms

An interesting survey of fifty-five different Canadianisms. The results are not statistically valid, but probably roughly align with reality.

Since I’ve lived in Toronto for three-and-a-half years now, I thought it would be interesting to tally up the words that I’m familiar with. I’ve heard about half of them. Some of the unfamiliar may be due to the fact that I live in Toronto and not Canada proper. Others may be due to not having traveled in wider social circles (e.g., back in my younger drinking days, I probably would have known what a forty-pounder was). And of course due to diegogarcity, over the next week I’m sure to hear many of the ones I had thought were unfamiliar.

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keener

A recent episode of the radio show and podcast A Way With Words made mention of the slang term keener, citing it as a Canadianism for someone who is enthusiastic about something. I had noticed the word since coming to the University of Toronto three years ago, where my fellow graduate students use it to describe the enthusiastic, and usually top-performing, undergraduate students in their classes. Phrases like “I assigned extra reading, knowing that only the keeners would actually do it” are common in our discussions among ourselves. We graduate students are ambivalent about the keeners here at U of T. On the one hand, we appreciate their enthusiasm, but on the other that same enthusiasm can become tiresome, and their behavior sometimes verges on the sycophantic. (The joy of having a bright, motivated student who is destined to get an A wears off after the seventh frantic email on the night before an essay is due.)

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whole nine yards, the

Few phrases have as many tales attached to their origin as does the phrase, the whole nine yards, which has spawned a raft of popular etymologies, all of them wrong. The origin of the phrase has long been a mystery, but recently researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake has uncovered the phrase’s origin, or at least gotten as close to the origin as anyone is likely to get. And in what may be a surprise to many (but perhaps not to those with long experience researching slang terms), the phrase doesn’t refer to anything in particular. The “nine” doesn’t seem to hold any significance, nor does “yards” measure anything in particular.

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slim

When we say someone is slim, we usually mean that they are slender or thin, although the word has some other, less common, meanings. English use of the adjective dates to at least 1657,
We shall see, however, that the word may be older. Slim is borrowed from Dutch and comes from the Middle Dutch or Middle Low German slim or slem, where the word meant slanting or crooked. And oddly, English use of the word has always been “gracefully slender,” with a positive connotation. While in Dutch the word has both positive and negative connotation, and in modern German, its counterpart schlimm means bad or wicked.

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Dictionary of Medieval Latin Completed

After one hundred years in the making, the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources has been completed. The sixteenth and final volume will be officially published on 11 December. The dictionary, which has over 58,000 entries, includes words used in Anglo-Latin from 540–1600 C.E.

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shrewd, shrew

When we say someone is shrewd, we are saying that they are clever, astute, and exhibit a practical intelligence and insight, but this was not always so. Some seven hundred years ago, a shrewd person was an evil or malicious one.

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robot

Robots are a staple of science fiction and increasingly an important part of life in our present-day world. The word comes from the Czech robota, a word literally meaning forced labor, but which is also used figuratively to mean drudgery, hard work. Robota has cognates in several Slavic languages, and the use of robot in English to refer to the system of serfdom in Eastern Europe dates to the early nineteenth century.

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America’s First Book

The Old South Church in Boston has sold one of its two copies of the Bay Psalm Book for $14.2 million dollars, making it the most expensive printed book in history. The Bay Psalm Book, printed in 1640, is the first book printed in North America. Eleven copies of the first edition are extant. While this is the highest price fetched for a printed book, it’s not the the most expensive book ever; a handwritten notebook of Leonardo da Vinci sold for $30.8 million in 1994.

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