Have you ever wondered what wordies read when sitting on the pot? Yeah, me neither. But not to leave you in the lurch—they're checking out stuff like Anu Garg's The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words. A quintessential bathroom reader, Garg (creator of the A.Word.A.Day email newsletter at wordsmith.org) reports on the travels, tribulations, and histories of more than 300 words, which makes for a semi-interesting squat, but you'll never be taking this book out on the town.
Chock full of parlor puzzles, The Dord relays some curious etymology. Did you know that "glamour" is another form of the word "grammar"? As Garg says, "The magical charm sense of the word arose because grammar, or learning, used to be associated with the occult." Fairly interesting, right? But that's all you get from Garg—no footnotes, no references, no bibliography. To find out more I'll have to wander blindly around the library muttering something about glamour and grammar being cousins. The Dord is short on quantity, both in length and depth. For every "glamour," there's a "Benjamin." Gee golly, did you know that "Benjamin" is a nickname for the $100 bill? 'Cause Benjamin Franklin's on it. Ummm yeah, I did know that.
Because there's a certain level of geekiness inherent with a reference book about etymology, Garg includes some dorky humor. Unfortunately Garg is not a cunning linguist (sorry!), and most of his jokes fall flat. The entry on autotomy (self-amputation or self-surgery) says, "A lizard being chased will shed its tail and slip away... (The lizard goes home and buys a replacement on eBay. Just kidding! Of course, it can't do that—eBay's policy explicitly prohibits lizards from bidding.)" Yeesh, I never thought about heckling a book before.
The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two tries to cover a lot of ground in a very little time, leaving readers with just a small sampling of the more fascinating aspects of word origin. But the book's good merits aren't enough to save The Dord from being a cursory, groan-inducing bit of bathroom reading. I'd just stick with Garg's word-a-day website.