Book Review: Off to a Flying Start

I don’t see that many etymological books geared for children, at least not good ones. One that has recently crossed my desk is Off to a Flying Start: Horsing Around the Language, by Bill Tiveman and Cassandra Cook. The book provides origins for words and phrases associated with horses and horseracing, like inside track, on the nose, and, of course as the title suggests, off to a flying start.

The book is short with some sixty-odd terms explained, and each entry is wonderfully illustrated by Ana Mirela Tache. Best of all, the book is well-researched, with the OED as the primary reference for the origins. It is not a scholarly book; there are no footnotes as is appropriate for a children’s book, but the authors have taken to heart the philosophy that even a fun book should be accurate. Too many books of etymologies of terms from a specific field, such as nautical terms or various sports, rely on myth rather than fact. This is not one of them.

One error I did note, however, is chomping at the bit, which is more properly champing at the bit. Given the popularity of that form, Tiveman and Cook can be forgiven for including it, but they should have at least mentioned the champing form. But that’s a minor point.

Off to a Flying Start is an excellent choice for the child (or adult) who likes both horses and language and is an excellent introduction to the subject of word and phrase origins without being heavy handed or overly academic. It’s an excellent choice for the classroom or school library.

Off to a Flying Start
by Bill Tiveman & Cassandra Cook
Aardvark Global Publishing (May 2009)

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