Once Upon a Word:
A Word-Origin Dictionary for Kids. Building Vocabulary Through Etymology, Definitions & Stories,
by Jess Zafarris
For Ages 9-12
Once Upon a Word is a very attractive dictionary designed to develop the vocabulary of young readers. But I bet you would discover treasures there, whatever your age.
It starts with Word Jungle, a part explaining in very simple terms the basics of linguistics: Indo European, Ancient Greek and Latin, and the evolution from Old to Modern English.
I like the smart way the author played with the image of language trees, with roots and branches. From roots, we go to prefixes and suffixes.
Very clear tables are provided: a green one for words having Latin-Based roots.
Here is an example of the chart:
Then we have the same type of chart, in pink this time for Greek-Based roots.
Then an orange chart presents the list of main prefixes, and a grey chart the list of main suffixes.
Before going into the dictionary itself (Part 2), the author proposes a few games to use these charts. She also explains how the months of the year have been named, and details how the 2nd part is structured:
Over 800 words are listed in alphabetical order (the pages are color coded in the margin for each letter, with a rotation of four colors, and each letter is introduced with a neat illustration). Each word comes with its pronunciation; the part of speech it belongs to (noun, verb, etc); its definition; its historical background, and its etymology. Some words are used in a sentence.
Here is the top first page of that section
All along, some colored boxes pop up, for instance on page 56 on words that sound funny.
I did learn a few words: a bandicoot, a kerfuffle, a scuttlebutt, widdershins.
And I made some other cool discoveries:
- the connection between a buoy and the adjective buoyant.
- caterpillar literally means ‘shaggy cat’
- curmudgeon could be coming from cœur méchant (mean heart) in French!!
- Dismal comes from dies mali
- A fedora comes from the character Fedora in the 1889 play of the same name, famously played by Sarah Bernhardt
- Hazard comes from al-zahr, the Arabic word for dice
- Hiccups means ‘elf pains’, because they were thought to be caused by elves!
- Jeopardy comes from the French jeu parti
- Karaoke from the Japanese kara= empty and oke= orchestra
- And Karate = empty hand
- Khaki means dusty in Urdu
- Lackadaisical comes from “alack the day!”
- Nerd comes from nut, as crazy
- Safari means journey in Swahili
- Shampoo comes from the Hindi word champna, to massage
- Sherbet comes from the Arabic shariba, to drink
- Sideburns comes from American Civil War general Ambrose E. Burnside
- Ukulele means leaping flea in Hawaiian
- Vaccine comes from the Latin vaccinus, “from cows”, because the first vaccine in 1800 by Doctor Edward Jenner was an injection of the cowpox virus.
- Window comes from the Old Norse for wind eye
- An X-ray got its name because at the time it was discovered in the 1800s, it was unknown type of radiation
- And this one:
I think the book could have stopped here, it had enough treasures.
The author added a third part, with a list of food related words, and music related words, with their meaning and etymology. Why only two categories, and why these two? I think really this part was unnecessary.
The book ends with a list of references for the educators who would like to go further.
You can also discover all kinds of word etymologies with gorgeous pictures on the author’s website: https://uselessetymology.com/ or on her Twitter account https://twitter.com/UselessEty
VERDICT: A beautiful example that children’s books can be a mine of resources for all, here about language.
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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this book free of charge from the publisher through The Callisto Publisher’s Club. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.
Great review! I think I’d like to have a copy of this in my home.
Definitely great resource to have. And the book is less than $20
I could probably use this!
all of us, really
This is SO incredibly interesting. I honestly think I would love this book for myself. Hiccups coming from elves is hilarious! And that Moxie thing is so funny too!
absolutely, I do believe many native English speakers would discover lots of things they don’t know
This book looks amazing! Thanks for the detailed review.
Yes, it’s really really good
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I’ve pre-ordered a copy for myself! I’m a bit obsessed with etymology and I can’t wait to dive into this and have it ready for the kids I work with.
Good move, this is a great book
I am sure I would like this book. I’m glad you liked it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Yes, it’s really well done