Mark Forsyth

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Mark Forsyth
Mark Forsyth portrait.jpg
Mark Forsyth
Born (1977-04-02) 2 April 1977 (age 38)
London, England
Occupation Author
Language English
Alma mater Lincoln College, Oxford (1999)
Notable works The Etymologicon, The Horologicon, The Elements of Eloquence

Mark Forsyth (born 2 April 1977[1][2]) is a writer whose work concerns the meaning and etymology of English words.[3]

He is the author of best-selling[4] books The Etymologicon, The Horologicon, and The Elements of Eloquence, as well as being known for his blog The Inky Fool.[5][6][7][8] His first two books were featured on BBC Radio 4's series Book of the Week.[9][10]

In June 2012, Forsyth gave a TEDX talk entitled "What’s a snollygoster? A short lesson in political speak".[11]


Mark Forsyth attended Winchester College in Winchester, Hampshire, England[3] from 1990 to 1995.[8] He also studied English Language & Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford University from 1996[12][13] to 1999.[14]


The Inky Fool[edit]

As a self-described journalist, proofreader, ghostwriter and pedant,[15] Forsyth started a blog called the Inky Fool in 2009[14][16][17] as a forum to share his love of words. His posts often involve an exploration of words; where they come from and how they relate to each other.[17] "Etymology is fun," Forsyth said in a Skepticality interview, "Some people talk about the true meaning. I just find it interesting and delightful and often just very, very funny. That's the main thing I love about etymology."[16]

The Etymologicon[edit]

The popularity of Inky Fool led to Forsyth's first book publishing deal[18] in 2011 with Icon Books.[14][19] In The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connection of The English Language, Forsyth explains the meanings and derivations of well-known words and phrases,[18] and explores the strange connections between words[20] in a stream-of-consciousness fashion.[21] The book's title, originally called Point Blank Check Mate: The Inky Fool's Book of Word Association,[14] references the poet John Milton who purportedly invented the word "etymologicon" to describe a book containing etymologies.[14] The book's structure, described as whimsical,[22] leads the reader to "unexpected coinages and devious linkages, sexy, learned and satisfyingly obscure."[23] It is, according to reviewer Karin Schimke, "a cursory run through history presented with a wry eye and a peculiar sense of humor."[21] Reviewer Robert McCrum wrote, "Not since Eats, Shoots & Leaves has a book about language...attracted so much attention in bookshops, running through successive reprints."[15] The Etymologicon was a Sunday Times No. 1 Bestseller in January 2012.[24]

While The Etymologicon falls into the category of edutainment,[17] the examples Forsyth includes in the book are well researched and supported by evidence.[25] His goal was to include as much scholarly information as "lightly" as possible.[14] Forsyth researches words and phrases as far back to their original sources as he can find.[25] "Often, the joy of the research," he said in a Chicago Tribune interview, "is finding examples of the original usages that have been lost for centuries. For example, humble pie used to be umble pie because the umbles were the innards of a deer (so it was the poor man's equivalent of venison pie). I actually found a recipe book from 1727 deep in the bowels of the British Library that gave instructions on how to make it. So I did. And it was delicious."[26]

In The Etymologicon, Forsyth dispels myths about the origins of some words.[22] He also cautions against what he calls "the danger of inductive reasoning"[16] when determining the commonality among diverse languages. Some patterns in language, he asserts, are mere coincidence and linguists meticulously document specific examples of word and sound changes to determine whether or not disparate languages are, indeed, connected.[16]

The Horologicon[edit]

The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language is Forsyth's second book and contains "weird words for familiar situations."[3][27] Many of these words are no longer in use: snollygoster, durgeon and frumples.[18] To avoid having his list of words "form what is technically known as a dictionary,"[18] Forsyth arranges Horologicon or Book of Hours[28] according to the hours in a day:[17][18][28][29][30] from dawn, through breakfast, commuting, office life, shopping, going out drinking and stumbling home.[18] Forsyth believes some of these words should be revived: "Never mind the puzzled looks," he says, "just use them. Throw them into conversation as often as possible."[17] A reviewer in The Daily Telegraph wrote: "From ante-jentacular to snudge by way of quafftide and wamblecropt, at last you can say, with utter accuracy, exactly what you mean."[29]

The Elements of Eloquence[edit]

The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase is Forsyth's third book. Described as a writer's tool-kit or recipe book,[31] The Elements of Eloquence outlines 38 rhetorical figures[32] (e.g., hyperbole,[31] epizeuxis,[33] catachresis[4]) that, according to Forsyth, can be learned by almost anybody.[32] Forsyth uses examples from William Shakespeare,[32] Lord Byron,[33] Winston Churchill,[33] Lord Tennyson,[33] Lewis Carroll,[33] Quentin Tarantino,[33] John Lennon[33][34] and Katy Perry[33][34] to reveal "the secrets" behind memorable lines and phrases.[31] One reviewer wrote: "It's doubtful that if more people knew Forsyth's The Elements of Eloquence, the world would be a better place, but it would certainly sound a great deal better."[33]

The Unknown Unknown[edit]

Forsyth's essay Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted was a special commission for Independent Booksellers Week.[35][36] and celebrates the discoveries one can make at independent bookshops.[36][37] In his essay, Forsyth makes the case for the lost pleasures of undirected browsing[38] that cannot be achieved with an internet search.[39] Reviewer Matthew Parris wrote: As any sub-editor knows, and too few columnists acknowledge, a good headline can say it all. Mark Forsyth, whose passion is words, and whose book, The Etymologicon, proved probably the best-selling title in history that nobody can pronounce, has written an essay in booklet form to adorn the tables of Britain's bookshops. Its title page tells you succinctly why it should. The Unknown Unknown, it's called, and its subtitle is "Bookshops and the delight of not getting what you wanted." Not since I engaged a company called Difficult Access Cranes Ltd has the point been made before, as it were, you've even opened the tin.[40]

Other Books[edit]

Forsyth wrote the introduction for the new edition of Collins English Dictionary.[41][42] In it, he notes "There are few pastimes in life as pleasurable and profitable as reading the dictionary. The plot is, of course, rather weak, and the moral of the whole thing slightly elusive; but for my money there isn't another book that comes close to it."[41][42]

He also wrote a short chapter, "Who Named All the Cities,"[43] for a book compiled by Gemma Elwin Harris called Big Questions from Little People Answered by Some Very Big People.[44]

Radio Appearances and TED Talk[edit]

  • Why Read Dictionaries with David Astle and Mark Forsyth Radio National (26 May 2013)[45]
  • What's a snollygoster? A short lesson in political speak TED talk (August, 2012)[1]
  • Do we overuse 'literally'? BBC Radio 4 (12 March 2012)[46]
  • Painting the Forth Bridge 'finished' BBC Radio 4 (9 December 2011)[47]



  • The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted (Icon Books, 2014) ISBN 978-1-848-31784-0


  • Where to find answers to questions you didn't ask (The Independent, 29 June 2014)[48]
  • The Poetry of the Trading Floor, Going Beyond Bears and Bulls (The New York Times, 14 April 2014)[49]
  • Bloody 'L' (The Independent, 15 February 2014)[50]
  • Save the soundbite! MARK FORSYTH (The Spectator, 23 November 2013)[51]
  • The Turkey's Turkey Connection (The New York Times, 27 November 2013)[51]
  • Dear Santa, thanks for the fewtrils and fattrels!*: *Or cheapo presents in other words, as revealed in our fantabulous guide to the forgotten language of Christmas (Daily Mail, 26 December 2012)[52]
  • OMG, Cupid - this is the written word's golden age: Far from destroying literacy, the social media have given writing a new importance, especially in the art of wooing, says Mark Forsyth (Sunday Times, 28 October 2012)[53]
  • Tin tacks, syntax and Chinese sensibility: What a nation puts in its dictionaries tells us far more about it than history books ever can (The Daily Telegraph, 17 July 2012)[54]


Short Stories[edit]

  • The Servant (The Spectator, 13 December 2014)[55]


  • When ink-stained etymologists are being jetted around the world and interviewed on television you know that something has gone horribly, horribly awry.[53]
  • Rhetoric, classically speaking, is the whole art of persuasion. Everything from your argument to your hand gestures, right up to the argumentum ad baculum or argument by stick, which involves hitting somebody until they agree with you. But in the age of the soundbite, it's a much simpler business. Gone are the logical proofs, and the structure of an argument. What's left are the rhetorical tricks that can be applied to one sentence, the pullquote. Kennedy knew this. All you have to do is take the first half of the sentence and say it backwards and you're the hero of the Free World. That's chiasmus.[51]
  • What I love about etymology is not the grand theories but the strange back alleys and extraordinary and ridiculous journeys that words take.[25]
  • Of his book Horologicon, Forsyth said: It is for the words too beautiful to live long, too amusing to be taken seriously, too precise to become common, too vulgar to survive polite society, or too poetic to thrive in the age of prose.[17][28]
  • There's absolutely no point in historians getting indignant about language. It's never going to stop changing – they're trying to hold back the tide like the Luddites.[56]
  • Politics and advertising have always had a lot in common. They are both despised. They are both necessary if you want to shift the public. And they both rely on the consumer not knowing the figures of rhetoric.[51]
  • Only in the bookshop, in the Good Bookshop, can you stumble across the book that you never knew you wanted, that will answer all the questions that you never knew to ask. It is there, waiting, but you cannot find it by searching. You must find it by chance. Somewhere on the shelf at the back, over to the right.[48]
  • There is more to life than the figures of rhetoric; I just don't think there is much more.[8]


  1. ^ a b "TED Speaker profile". TED. Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  2. ^ "Mark Forsyth, Grand National". Deep Book Productions. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c Paton, Aubrey (12 October 2012). "How to be a clever clogs". Times Live (Times Media Group). Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Stock, Jon (9 November 2013). "The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth: Telegraph bookshop corner. John Stock introduces the new book from the author of The Etymologicon". The Daily Telegraph (London (UK)). p. 36. 
  5. ^ Christopher, Lissa (24 May 2013). "Lovers of writing pack venues as the words rain down". Sydney Morning Herald. 
  6. ^ Jeynes, Karen (1 February 2013). "Get solivagant with word trip". Cape Times. 
  7. ^ Evans, David (14 September 2014). "Paperback reviews". The Independent. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c Garnett, George (12 December 2013). "Mark Forsyth: Inky Fool". The Insight (Winchester College) 1 (3): 4. 
  9. ^ "BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week: The Etymologicon". BBC. 20 December 2011. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  10. ^ "BBC 4 Book of the Week: The Horologicon". BBC. 4 December 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  11. ^ "What’s a snollygoster? A short lesson in political speak". Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  12. ^ "Mark Forsyth". Contemporary Authors Online (Stamford, CT: Gale Cengage Learning). 12 December 2014. 
  13. ^ Lofthouse, Richard (4 April 2014). "Making Rhetoric Relevant". Oxford Today. University of Oxford. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f O'Keeffe, Alice (19 August 2011). "Mark Forsyth". The Book Seller (Bookseller Media Ltd). Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  15. ^ a b McCrum, Robert (13 November 2011). "Review: Books: The Inky Fool comes up with golden nuggets". The Observer (London (UK): Guardian News & Media Limited). p. 42. 
  16. ^ a b c d Colanduno, Derek (25 December 2012). "More American than a Good Shag. Interview: Mark Forsyth". Skepticality. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f "Time to rescue those useful old words from the dustbin". The Yorkshire Post (Leeds (UK): Johnston Press New Media). 19 December 2012. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f White, Roland (4 November 2012). "Don't forget your bumbershoot: This lively book digs up the wonderfully colourful English vocabulary that has disappeared from daily use". Sunday Times (London (UK): News International Trading Limited). 
  19. ^ Forsyth, Mark (11 March 2011). "The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language". Icon Books. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  20. ^ "The Etymologicon; Telegraph books. A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language - Mark Forsyth". The Daily Telegraph (Edition 1) (London (UK): Daily Telegraph). 30 June 2012. p. 30. 
  21. ^ a b Schimke, Karin (27 April 2012). "Mark Forsyth". Cape Times (Cape Town, South Africa: Independent Online). p. 10. 
  22. ^ a b Hitchings, Henry (19 February 2012). "Time to watch your language". Mail on Sunday (London (UK): Solo Syndication, a division of Associated Newspapers Ltd). p. 9. 
  23. ^ Hardyment, Christina (9 June 2012). "Audiobooks". The Times (London, England: NI Syndication Limited). 
  24. ^ "Hardbacks". Sunday Times (London (UK): News International Trading Limited). 22 January 2012. p. 32. 
  25. ^ a b c Copping, Jasper (5 November 2011). "Idioms in a nutshell". The Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario: Infomart, a division of Postmedia Network Inc). p. B.3. 
  26. ^ Stevens, Heidi (26 September 2012). "Etymology, the mystery of Spam and other deep questions: Mark Forsyth's 'Etymologicon' explores roots and connections of phrases". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  27. ^ "Mark Forsyth's Ternion Set". The Daily Telegraph (London (UK): Daily Telegraph). 15 November 2014. p. 9. 
  28. ^ a b c Knowsley, Jo (21 December 2012). "History - Word play for the day: resources". The Times Educational Supplement 5024 (London (UK): TSL Education Ltd). 
  29. ^ a b "The Horologicon: Telegraph Books.". The Daily Telegraph (London (UK)). 1 December 2012. p. 15. 
  30. ^ Forsyth, Mark (9 October 2013). "Mark Forsyth's top 10 lost words". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  31. ^ a b c "Author evening: learning the tricks of rhetoric". The West Sussex Gazette (Horsham (UK): Johnston Press New Media). 10 December 2013. 
  32. ^ a b c Moore, Charles (18 November 2013). "'If you have nothing to say, at least say it well'". (London (UK): Telegraph Media Group Limited). 
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The archaeology of language". Sunday Star Times (Wellington, New Zealand: Fairfax Media: Fairfax New Zealand Limited). 15 December 2013. p. E.31. 
  34. ^ a b Evans, David (14 September 2014). "The Elements of Eloquence". The Independent (London (UK): Independent Print Ltd). p. 20. 
  35. ^ Forsyth, Mark (9 April 2014). "Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted". Icon Books. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  36. ^ a b "Bookseller's chart". The Western Morning News (Plymouth (UK)). 19 July 2014. p. 19. 
  37. ^ "The Unknown Unknown, by Mark Forsyth, book review: Where to find answers to questions you didn't ask". The Independent ( 9 January 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  38. ^ Parris, Matthew (15 November 2014). "Matthew Parris: The lost pleasures of reading a proper newspaper". The Spectator (London (UK): The Spectator (1828) Limited). 
  39. ^ Lee, John (26 October 2014). "England; Bibliophile's London haunts". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA). p. L.6. 
  40. ^ Parris, Matthew (2 July 2014). "Underwater opera had me weeping buckets". The Times (London (UK)). p. 24. 
  41. ^ a b "New words make new Collins dictionary". Hurriyet Daily News (Istanbul). 23 October 2014. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  42. ^ a b "Adorkable new words make new Collins dictionary". BBC News Scotland (BBC). 22 October 2014. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  43. ^ Harris, Gemma Elwin (2012). Big questions from little people--and simple answers from great minds. New York: Ecco. ISBN 978-0-062-22322-7. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  44. ^ Lovegrove, James (6 October 2012). "Children's books: Big Questions From Little People...Answered by Some Very Big People". Financial Times (London (UK)). p. 10. 
  45. ^ Astle, David (26 May 2013). "Why Read Dictionaries with David Astle and Mark Forsyth". Radio National Weekend Arts (Sydney, Australia: ABC). Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  46. ^ Humphrys, John (12 March 2012). "Do we overuse 'literally'?". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  47. ^ Humphreys, John (9 December 2011). "Painting the Forth Bridge 'finished'". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  48. ^ a b Forsyth, Mark (29 June 2014). "Where to find answers to questions you didn't ask". The Independent (London (UK): Independent Print Ltd). p. 18. 
  49. ^ Forsyth, Mark (14 April 2014). "The Poetry of the Trading Floor, Going Beyond Bears and Bulls". The New York Times. p. 2. Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  50. ^ Forsyth, Mark (15 February 2014). "Bloody 'L'". The Independent (London (UK): Independent Print Ltd). p. 9. 
  51. ^ a b c d Forsyth, Mark (23 November 2013). "Save the soundbite! MARK FORSYTH". The Spectator (London (UK): The Spectator (1928) Limited).  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Forsyth.2C_Mark_.28November_2013.29" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  52. ^ Forsyth, Mark (26 December 2012). "Dear Santa, thanks for the fewtrils and fattrels!*: *Or cheapo presents in other words, as revealed in our fantabulous guide to the forgotten language of Christmas". Daily Mail (London (UK)). p. 42. 
  53. ^ a b Forsyth, Mark (28 October 2012). "OMG, Cupid - this is the written word's golden age: Far from destroying literacy, the social media have given writing a new importance, especially in the art of wooing, says Mark Forsyth". Sunday Times (London (UK): News International Trading Limited). p. 7. 
  54. ^ Forsyth, Mark (17 July 2012). "Tin tacks, syntax and Chinese sensibility: What a nation puts in its dictionaries tells us far more about it than history books ever can". The Daily Telegraph (London (UK): Daily Telegraph). p. 18. 
  55. ^ Forsyth, Mark (13 December 2014). "The Servant". The Spectator (The Spectator (1828) Ltd). Retrieved 17 January 2015. 
  56. ^ de Castella, Tom (19 April 2012). "Are you a Luddite?". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 

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