I currently have nine books available, plus separate UK and US editions of Word Drops (2015; 2016), The Accidental Dictionary (2016; 2017), The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities (2017; 2019), and Around the World in 80 Words (2018; 2020). You can read more about them all here, alongside a handful of reviews, links, and publishing details.
Why is This a Question?
Everything About the Origins and Oddities of Language You Never Thought to Ask
Elliott & Thompson (2022)
Have you ever wondered why our language works the way it does? Why our words go in the order they do? Why our alphabet is arranged in ABC order? Why our letters even look the way they do? And for that matter, how our brain deals with all these random lines, curves, dots, and dashes, and somehow uses them to make sense of our linguistic world?
If you have (or you’re now at least a little intrigued to know more), then Why Is This A Question? is for you. Released in the UK and beyond in October 2022, the book answers 20 intriguing ponderables like these, covering everything from the very basics of our words and languages, to extraordinary questions about their inner workings and how they operate in our world, our brains, and our culture. How do we read? How do we understand things? Why do our hands move when we speak? And what does an aeroplane have to do with how your vocal cords work?
The answers to all these—plus a great many more—are here.
“Exhilarating.” Times Literary Supplement / “As entertaining as it is engrossing ... Language is an immensely intricate medium, but Paul Anthony Jones has the measure of it.” John Banville / “Jam-packed with fascinating stuff.” Eamonn Forde / “Absolutely great ... perfectly pitched for the interested layman/woman.” Lucy Mangan / “An enlightening, delightful book that will make you question every sentence you’ve ever read or written.” Arthur der Weduwen / “Enthralling, with a riveting ‘Who knew?’ moment on nearly every page.” Caroline Taggart / “Deft, informative, and packed with fascinating morsels.” Lev Parikian ”Paul Anthony Jones did his homework and it shows ... 5 out of 5 stars. Perfection.” ★★★★★ Net Gally review
The Cabinet of Calm
Soothing Words for Troubled Times
Elliott & Thompson (2020)
While the optimist likes to look positively to the future, the pessimist worries about the unknown, and fears the constant potential for calamity or tragedy. If you’re naturally something of a pessimist, then snapping out of that way of thinking can be more easily said than done. The more hopeful you are, the pessimist thinks, the worse it will feel when those hopes are inevitably dashed—because after all, disaster and failure are surely lurking around every corner.
It’s true that we can never know what the future has in store for us. But what the pessimist forgets by embracing the constant threat of catastrophe, is that there is always the equally constant potential for a eucatastrophe. Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien coined the word eucatastrophe in 1939 to describe the positive counterpart of a disaster: a wholly unforeseen event of utter positivity. It is a word to remind us not merely to focus on the chance of some future disaster, but on the opportunities presented by a sudden and entirely positive shift or event. There need not be a catastrophe lurking around the corner, then, but a eucatastrophe.
Tolkien’s fascinating invention stands alongside another 50 words of nothing but positivity, motivation, calmativeness, reassurance and peace of mind in The Cabinet of Calm.
“[A] gifty and gorgeous compendium of beguiling words from which you can select to soothe the troubles that afflict you.” The Bookseller / “I love it. Such a wonderful combination: unique words and heartfelt insight.” Tim Lihoreau, Classic FM / Released 14 May 2020 / “When you are down and out, and you don't know where to cling onto, these words are the cliff edge to help you pull yourself up.” LionHeart, BBC London
Around the World in 80 Words
A Journey Through the English Language
Elliott & Thompson (2018)
University of Chicago Press (2020)
Stellenbosch is a small town in South Africa’s Cape Province, around 30 miles east of Cape Town. If you’ve never heard of it, you certainly won’t be alone—but this unassuming town has nevertheless earned itself a permanent place in our dictionary. Nestled between stellate (“star-shaped”) and stelleroid (“a starfish”), to Stellenbosch someone is to demote them, due to their incompetence, to an ineffectual or menial position.
To find out how the town inspired the word, we need to head back to the Boer Wars of the late nineteenth century. Back then, Stellenbosch was the site of a British Army remount camp—a camp, that is, for the care, treatment and training of war horses. In the days before motorized military transport, these remount camps were immensely important to the army’s success—but looking after the horses was far from front-line duty.
Any officer whose conduct or tactical decisions on the front line had fallen short of expectations, ultimately, might find himself Stellenbosched—demoted from front-line duty, and placed in charge of the upkeep of the remount camp. It was still an important task, and so he could scarcely complain of his new employment, but it was to all intents and purposes a demotion, out of harm’s way, where his conduct could no longer impact the future of the war.
This story, alongside 79 more words and phrases we owe to the world map, are collected together here in Around the World in 80 Words—a circumnavigation of the English language. Beginning and ending in London, its 70,000-mile journey takes in six continents and more than seventy countries, from France and Spain to Uzbekistan, Indonesia and the Marshall Islands, for an etymological guide unlike any other you’ve read before.
“An armchair adventure” BBC Culture / “A really good book!” Susie Dent / “Linguistic gold ... An entertaining etymological voyage of discovery” The Times Literary Supplement / “A charming, informative journey through time and continents” Cox & Kings / “An entertaining etymological odyssey” Interesting Literature / “Another fabulous read from Paul Anthony Jones” Portobello Books
The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities
A Yearbook of Forgotten Words
Elliott & Thompson (2017)
Inspired by the daily Word of the Day tweets over on the @HaggardHawks Twitter feed, The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities brings together an entire year’s worth of daily obscure vocabulary—with a twist of fascinating historical context added for good measure.
All 366 daily entries (yes, 29 February is here too!) comprise a word pulled from one the more obscure corners of often one of the most obscure dictionaries, alongside some daily quirk or commemoration that ties each word to each day in history. So as well as words suitable for New Year’s Day (quaaltagh), Valentine’s Day (limerance) and St George’s Day (G.H.), the date on which New York City banned flirting in public is linked to a word meaning “to look at romantically” (sheep’s-eye); the date on which a top hat caused a riot in central London matches with a word for the very newest fashioned (alamodic); the date on which Michael Faraday publicly decried the state of the Thames is tied to the story behind a word meaning “horrifically filthy” (Augean); and the date on which Mrs Beeton’s guide to Household Management was published comes alongside the story behind an old English dialect word for a man who likes to do housework (polly-in-the-cottage).
Where in the dictionary, and where in history, will today’s date take you? Open The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities to find out...
“A splendid book!” Ian McMillan / “A fascinating compendium of etymology, and a captivating historical miscellany” Foyles / “Absolutely beautiful (and fascinating!)” Interesting Literature / “Tremendous ... A must for lovers of the odd corners of the English language.” Moose Allain / “[A] little beauty ... I really love @HaggardHawks’ books – a must for word nerds” Greg Jenner / “A veritable Aladdin's Cave of lost words and fascinating historical events ... It is a treasure trove of interesting words and historical information and how the author links history to the word of the day is nothing short of brilliant. ★★★★★” The Book Magnet / “Paul Anthony Jones ... is the man behind Haggard Hawks, another wonderful place for everything wordy ... and boy has he found some corkers in this book ... A book for those that love all things about the English language” ★★★★ NB Magazine
The Accidental Dictionary
The Remarkable Twists And Turns Of English Words
Elliott & Thompson (UK, 2016), ISBN-10 178-3962976
Pegasus Books (US, 2017), ISBN-13 978-1681775692
It’s obviously not unusual for words to change their meanings over time, but sometimes those changes can be quite unexpected indeed. The Accidental Dictionary brings together 100 etymological stories just like these, outlining the histories and origins of a curious assortment of words that have embarked on some very extraordinary journeys down through the language.
An aficionado, for instance, was originally an amateur bullfighter. Glamour was originally another word for magic. To affiliate originally meant to adopt a child. Hanky-panky was once another name for deception or sleight of hand—whereas skulduggery was lewd, licentious behaviour. And that’s just the beginning...
“Wonderful ... Highly commended” John Rentoul, The Independent / “Excellent stuff.” Susie Dent / “Lovely.” Greg Jenner / “Fun and informative.” Interesting Literature.com / “With intelligence and wit, Jones offers the surprising origins and developments of 100 everyday words ... Each selection is pithy and engaging, making The Accidental Dictionary an ideal book to pick up whenever you need a funny yet informative break or burst of inspired word-nerdom.” John Kelly, Mashed Radish / “I am pleased to call myself a member of the word-loving league because otherwise I might miss out on treats such as The Accidental Dictionary.” Sue de Groot, South African Times / “Fascinating” Half Man, Half Book / “I already have more than enough [language books] on my shelves to be going on with, but Paul Anthony Jones’s The Accidental Dictionary is certainly worth adding ... I knew very few of [the entries in the book], which is a good thing, and now I know more, which is a better one.” Markus Berkmann, The Spectator / “Anyone familiar with the work of Paul Anthony Jones will know that he has a flair for making etymology engaging for a broad and popular audience... The Accidental Dictionary is perfect for those with a professional or popular interest in language. Its greatest appeal is that it can be dipped in and out of, and is perfect reading material for quick breaks during a busy day... Any reader will find it difficult not to be enthused by Jones’ punchy, accessible style and his verve and enthusiasm for the English language, as he invites his readers to ‘revel in its randomness and delight in its diversity’.” Babel Magazine / “Fascinating truths about everyday words.” Sunday Post / “Verbal hanky-panky at its best” Science Base
A Sprinkling Of Linguistic Curiosities
Elliott & Thompson (2015) ISBN-978-1783961535
University of New Mexico Press (2016) ISBN-10 0826356567
Did you know that the bowl made by cupping your hands together is called a gowpen? And speaking of bowls, the earliest known reference to bowling in English dates from 1555, when bowling alleys were banned by an Act of Parliament. And that ties in nicely with the fact that the English called the Germans ‘Alleymen’ during the First World War. But in Navajo, Germany is called Béésh Bich'ahii Bikéyah—or ‘metal cap-wearer land’.
Inspired by the success of the @HaggardHawks Twitter feed, Word Drops is a language factbook unlike any other. It’s 1,000 linguistic and etymological tidbits all fall together into one long interconnected chain, just like the example above, with each fact neatly ‘dropping’ into place beside the next. What’s more, footnotes are used throughout to give some informative and intriguing background to the most bizarre facts and words on offer, and cover everything from traditional Inuit games to the origin of the Bellini cocktail, from the precise length of one jiffy to what the Romans thought hoopoe birds ate, and from what to expect on a night out with Dr Johnson to Samuel Pepys’s cure for a hangover. Want to know the longest palindrome in Morse code, or who ‘The Great Masticator’ was? Curious to know what Norwegian steam is, or what a jäääär is? The answers are all here.
“Fascinating... Joy for the language-addicted.” Ian McMillan / “A succinct, charming assemblage of unusual words.” Greg Jenner / “Marvellous.” Samuel West / “Fantastic.” Moose Allain / “Brilliant for anyone interested in the effervescent oddness of English.” Stig Abell, The Sun / “If linguistic trivia is your flavour of the month, there’s a treat in store for you... it’s hard to imagine anyone not being charmed by this breezy medley of self-contained yet interconnected miscellany.” Stan Carey / “Very jolly and all fascinating stuff. I’m sure it will solve a lot of people’s Christmas present problems. Or it certainly should do.” Jonathon Green, Green’s Dictionary of Slang
Jedburgh Justice & Kentish Fire
The Story of English in Ten Phrases and Expressions
Constable & Robinson (2014)
The sequel to 2013’s word origins guide Haggard Hawks, Jedburgh Justice & Kentish Fire explores the related origins and histories behind 500 English phrases, proverbs and expressions. As in Haggard Hawks, all of the entries here have been arranged into fifty fascinating sets of ten – from 10 Phrases Invented By Shakespeare, to 10 Phrases Derived From Places In London, and from 10 Gamblers’ Expressions to 10 Ways Of Saying Goodbye. Here you’ll find stories and bizarre etymologies like the city that was saved from invasion by a flock of geese, the argument that was started by an apple, the first city in the world to be called Gotham, and the tale of an unlucky saddler that proves you should never turn down the offer of a drink. (There’s also a terrifically funny joke about a robbery gone wrong, and a terrifically unfunny joke about a parrot and a chimpanzee. What more could you want?)
Haggard Hawks & Paltry Poltroons
The Origins of English in Ten Words
Constable & Robinson (2013)
When you describe something as haggard, you’re actually using an old falconers’ term for a hawk that’s been captured in the wild, rather than one that’s been captive bred. And when you call someone a poltroon, you’re really calling them a hawk that’s had its claws clipped so that it doesn’t tear the flesh of its catch too badly. And if you live in a mews, or you’re an old codger, or you’ve ever gorged on something, or allured, aroused or pounced on something (or someone), then suffice to say you’ve accumulated quite a vocabulary of old falconry terms.
Named as one of the best language books of the year by The Guardian, word origins guide Haggard Hawks & Paltry Poltroons (2013) explains the origins of 500 English words like these, divided into fifty fascinating interrelated groups of ten – so besides 10 Words From Falconry, there are 10 Words Derived From Colours, 10 Words Invented By Shakespeare, 10 Words Derived From Places In America, and so on. Mixing the familiar (alarm, denim) with the unfamiliar (Boeotian, monadnock) and the downright bizarre (triacontarchy, ohnosecond), here you’ll find out where to see a vampire in a theatre, why you can’t scratch your cheese-grater, how to get a tune out of a goose, what connects an Athenian sandal to a critic who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, how to strike a deal with an old cloth cap, and what colour grizzly bears really are.
“A really lovely book” Susie Dent / “A decadal triumph!” The Good Book Guide, 2013 / “For anyone interested in words ... this is a joy.” Writing Magazine / “Amuse your friends with games like this: from what are the following ten words derived - adlib, bazooka, downbeat, finale, gamut, hydraulic, melodrama, keynote, segue, telephone? ... Our first instinct was to claim to be able to pin down half of these, but ... perhaps you can do better?” The Times Literary Supplement
The British Isles
A Trivia Gazetteer
No matter where you’re from, the chances are it will have its own particular claim to fame. From a waterfall in Scotland three times the height of Niagara Falls to the last foreign invasion of Britain and the birthplace of the first Oscar-winning Welshman, The British Isles: A Trivia Gazetteer brings together more than 1,000 remarkable facts and feats like these, each one pertaining to a different location from across Great Britain and Ireland.
As much an accessible and informative reference book as it is a miscellany of facts and trivia, The Trivia Gazetteer celebrates the diverse history and culture of the British Isles, while uncovering the extraordinary stories behind some of our most intriguing people and places.
“Fascinating” The Lady Magazine / “Know it all!” The Field Magazine / “Full of fascinating anecdotes and interesting trivia … ideal for anybody interested in the history and geography of the UK and Ireland” The Good Book Guide / “Lovers of Britain and British miscellany are sure to appreciate this collection of fascinating facts” Discover Britain