The Accidental Dictionary: The Surprising Evolution of 100 Words
Paul Jones

The Accidental Dictionary: The Surprising Evolution of 100 Words


It’s not uncommon for words to change their meanings over time. But sometimes those changes can take quite surprising twists and turns, leaving the words we use today quite some distance from their earliest origins and earliest appearances in the language.


Jargon, for instance, was originally another word for birdsong. Grinning once meant the same as “snarling”. Alcohol was eye-shadow. Venom was love potion. The original blockbuster was an enormous aerial bomb. A bank was a bench, a cupboard a table. A tiddlywink was an unlicensed pub. Pink was yellow. Glamour was magic. Pencils were paintbrushes, meerkats were monkeys, nephews were grandsons, noon was 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and if the Ancient Athenians ostracized you, they didn’t just ignore you but had you banished from the city for a decade.


In The Accidental Dictionary the etymological stories and histories behind 100 everyday English words like these are explored and described, proving just how much—and often just how extensively—our language can change over time. 

Book Details:

  • Author: Paul Jones
  • On Submission
  • Rights Sold
    • UK: Elliott & Thompson
    • US: Pegasus
Paul Jones

Paul Jones

Paul Anthony Jones was born in South Shields in 1983. Graduating with a Masters degree in English from the University of Newcastle in 2009, his first book The British Isles: A Trivia Gazetteer (2012) was inspired by a university study into the origins of English place names. This was quickly followed by two guides to English etymology, Haggard Hawks & Paltry Poltroons (2013) – named as one of best language titles of the year by The Guardian – and its sequel, Jedburgh Justice & Kentish Fire (2014). Paul also runs the popular tie-in Twitter account, @HaggardHawks, which ha...
More about Paul Jones

Book Reviews

  • "Entertaining and informative, the book offers equal helpings of social and linguistic history and interpretation. Standard dictionaries offer more etymological details, but those are rarely as engagingly as Jones’ lighter explications. "
  • "These surprising word stories show how definitions of even everyday terms appear then disappear, expand and contract, and develop and distort, making for pleasurable reading, especially owing to the author’s lightheartedly learned style. Recommended for word buffs and those interested in language change."
    Library Journal