Et Cetera, Et Cetera: Notes of a Word-Watcher

by Lewis Thomas

Hardcover, 1990




Boston : Little, Brown, c1990.


This is a book about simple but important words, and how they shed light on the way the human mind works. The author, winner of the National Book Award, examines the origin of words, the development of language, and tells us how language preserves us, binds us, and makes us a social species.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
Eh. The first two-thirds of the book are mildly interesting short chapters on the etymology of specific words or word groups. I disagree with some of his derivations (which means I want to look up his sources, since he states in the foreword that everything is secondary and tertiary sources, he's not a linguist or etymologist). It's set up bathroom book style, with no links between chapters or buildup of argument, and for that kind of light reading it's fine, quite enjoyable. Then he does start building an argument, of sorts, in the last few chapters - and he gets so many basic facts and concepts wrong that I'm really not sure what he was arguing. Especially for a biologist, he has a very poor grasp on evolution and what it does and does not apply to - he explicitly says that authoritative scholars say that evolution is random, without aim (yes), and in the next sentence says that this means that _culture_ just goes up and down, without progress, and disagrees with this utter strawman. Culture is not subject to evolution, as he's using the term. Then he suggests mathematics as a (future) universal language - after spending most of the book discussing the roots and complex meanings of modern English words, and all the complicated shades of meaning they can express - which left me somewhat bewildered; and he ends up with a chapter about the Gaia hypothesis, which is lyrical and spiritual and completely unrelated to the etymological discussion I was enjoying. So - interesting, if occasionally off-base (in my opinion) etymology, followed by poorly expressed spiritual opinions masquerading as science. A disappointing end. I may reread it someday, but if so I'll quit at the chapter on mathematics.… (more)
LibraryThing member JBD1
Boring, and quite inaccurate.



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