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Owen Barfield's original and thought-provoking works over three-quarters of a century made him a legendary cult figure. History in English Words, his classic historical excursion through the English language, is now back in print after five years.This popular book provides a brief, brilliant history of those who have spoken the Indo-European tongues. It is illustrated throOwen Barfield's original and thought-provoking works over three-quarters of a century made him a legendary cult figure. History in English Words, his classic historical excursion through the English language, is now back in print after five years.This popular book provides a brief, brilliant history of those who have spoken the Indo-European tongues. It is illustrated throughout by current English words—whose derivation from other languages, whose history in use and changes of meaning—record and unlock the larger history."In our language alone, not to speak of its many companions, the past history of humanity is spread out in an imperishable map, just as the history of the mineral earth lies embedded in the layers of its outer crust.... Language has preserved for us the inner, living history of our soul. It reveals the evolution of consciousness" (Owen Barfield).About the Author:Owen Barfield (1898-1997), British philosopher and critic, has been called the "First and Last Inkling" because of his influential and enduring role in the group known as the Oxford Inklings, which included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. It was Barfield who first advanced the ideas about language, myth, and belief that became identified with the thought and art of the Inklings. He is the author of numerous books, including Poetic Diction; Romanticism Comes of Age; Unancestoral Voice; History, Guilt, and Habit; and Worlds Apart, as well as works of fiction and poetry. His history of the evolution of human consciousness, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, achieved a place in the list of the "100 Best Spiritual Books of the Century."...

Title : History in English Words
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ISBN : 9780940262119
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 220 Pages
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History in English Words Reviews

  • Douglas Wilson
    2019-04-20 22:39

    This is a preeminently readable book of etymology, written by Owen Barfield, friend of C.S. Lewis. This book is not just an isolated series of word histories, but it is also tied in with history history, if that makes sense. Barfield was massively learned.

  • Tara
    2019-05-03 23:38

    The first statement on this book should be: if you want to be a writer, or a thinker, you should read this book. If I was teaching a class on nearly any subject, from carpentry to coding to creative writing, I would assign this book. It will clarify your ideas and help strain out muddled misconceptions. In almost any field, one would be a better thinker, student, and practitioner after reading. Just think: there are people out there who will read Foucault, slog through Derrida, and skip Barfield entirely. Unacceptable. If you're still not convinced of its importance, try this review: https://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/...I just re-read it for the fourth time, after forcing it upon my fellow book club members. If I can keep on track I'll share our collective thoughts after our meeting.For now: Owen Barfield is an underrated Inkling and an underrated thinker. I was startled by the review accusing him of being a maverick relativist: wait, what? Everything here fits neatly with his Steiner-influenced philosophy, outlined in Saving the Appearances, regarding Original and Final Participation.It took me two times through StA to understand Original and Final Participation. It was in 2012, and a cloud lifted from my shoulders. Conflicting devotions had torn me in two for a very long time; Barfield reconciled everything. I can only recommend reading it, as many times as necessary.HiEW is beautiful and wonderful however you approach it. If you care for words, you will love it. If you care for history, you will appreciate it. Here is a rich, textured, layered door through which to approach language. Understand isn't the right word; we're not here to conquer and command, but to show loyalty and love. The English language deserves both.

  • M. D.Hudson
    2019-05-17 04:25

    Barfield was the writer about language all the poets went to back in the day (note the intro by Auden). His book Poetic Diction is considered important, although ten years ago when I tackled it I found it above me. History in English Words, however, it terrific. This is not the usual Funny English Word Origins books that you see in the discount area at Barnes & Noble (nothing wrong with these, they just tend to be rather disjointed one-word-at-a-time things). Barfield shows, for the layperson, just exactly how the English language grew and how certain aspects of its growth were so important to the language’s power and suppleness. The chapter on how the Church schoolmen – those bearded scholars we all like to jeer at now for wanting to know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin – were so important in enriching the language, inventing, basically, words to express areas of human thought and feeling that were altogether new to western culture. Think “passion,” “conscience” “individual” for instance. These words did not exist in the way we mean them now in Latin or Greek. This process of constant addition and enrichment is to me a very moving story. This book is worth seeking out.

  • Ben McFarland
    2019-05-04 04:39

    I wish I had read this book earlier. Throughout all my reading of Owen Barfield, I wanted to know more about the philology that shaped his thoughts. I got a taste of that in Poetic Diction, but that was more about how poets use words than the words themselves. He always asserted that we could trace history through words but I only got glimpses of exactly how. History in English Words, then, shows how. It is a story of how words have changed, sometimes even flipping their meanings, and Barfield has an idea or two as to why they changed in that way.Like most of Barfield, it has its pedantic or frustratingly obtuse moments but is at least five-sixths brilliant. This may be the best book to start on for someone looking to get into his work (perhaps this is for the historians, while Poetic Diction is for the poets?). There's one chapter in which he goes on about the stifling early church authorities in a manner that shows why C.S. Lewis and Barfield had their tiffs. Lewis would never take the Gnostic gospels as seriously as Barfield. Then there's the last chapter which sounds almost exactly like Tolkien's famous Fairy Stories writings at points. Tolkien fans, make sure to stick around for that last chapter.If nothing else, this shows what you can do with an Oxford English Dictionary and a passion for words. Now that we have the technology to test some of these assertions about how, when, and why words changed to a degree unthinkable in Barfield's time, I think this little book could provide several theses's worth of hypotheses that Google lit searches could illuminate. I would like to see where Barfield's wrong, mostly because I have a hunch that more often than not he's right, and if so, then he's onto something. I'd like to trust but verify, and this book is about the original data Barfield's working from, so this has inside it a way to reproduce his assertions. Do words really internalize over time, swtiching from us being worked upon to us doing the working? Are Roman words really as external/concrete as Greek words are internal/abstract? What kind of shifts in meaning did the Septuagint's translation of Hebrew scriptures into Greek force upon the Second-Temple thought and theology? So many questions, so little time.The limiting reagent for me is the time. And the knowledge. And the background. And ... let's stop there before I delete this post in despair.At any rate, this book will let you see depths and layers of meaning in most every word you see (and choose to use). If sitting in a Philology class taught by Barfield sounds like a good idea to you, don't wait for the MOOC. Read the book.

  • Dave Maddock
    2019-04-29 00:26

    This is a tricky book to rate. I quite liked it but it has some problems, most of which it shares with aspects of Tolkien's "On Fairy-Stories" and "Mythopoeia" (Tree and Leaf) and C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy.Barfield traces the development of the Indo-European mindset through explication of the etymologies of choice word groups--first geographically with a focus on England, then conceptually. His thesis is that the history of this language group "is the shifting of the centre of gravity of consciousness from the cosmos around him into the personal human being himself."Clearly, Barfield is in agreement with his friends that the mythological has been unfairly abused by the scientific or rational mindset, particularly since the 19th century. I don't necessarily disagree with this assessment but, like Tolkien and Lewis, implicit in his argument is the idea that the mythological can and should be on par with (or superior to) the rational. I don't think this position is tenable. Barfield writes:Plato had deduced the sense-world from what we have called the inner world, and [...] his philosophy had remained admittedly bankrupt as far as detailed knowledge of the mechanism of the outer world was concerned. Nineteenth-century science, on the other hand, deduced the inner from the outer [...], but was wellnigh bankrupt as far as the inner world was concerned.Barfield does not seem to recognize that this is an unequal comparison. For while science has explicitly demonstrated the failings of Platonism when it attempts empirically-verifiable assertions, the best Barfield can offer for evidence of science's "bankruptcy" is his dissatisfaction with it.These 'romantic' notions might be absurd, but they were at least pleasant. 'We do not care for seeing through the falsehood,' wrote Addison, 'and willingly give ourselves up to so agreeable an imposture.'If Barfield and friends offer up imaginative fiction as a compliment to science, an Hegelian compromise between the Platonic and "mechanic" outlooks, then fine. Instead, the above sentiment (and others I could quote from Tolkien and Lewis) belie such a desire.

  • Roy
    2019-05-03 00:45

    If you have a perspective (or can gain one) from an English reader from England, this book will be easier to grasp than if you maintain a purely American perspective. It is a fascinating study of how history has developed from the adoption (and adaptation) of words into the English language. It is a word study so it is not designed with a compelling plot (though the course of human history is a fairly compelling story) adn there is detail that could be considreed tedious but, if you enjoy learning about words, this is a wonderful little book.

  • Lauren
    2019-04-24 00:42

    *3.5 stars*Barfield gets a little out of his depth in moments when he strays from etymology to answering why words changed meaning. Other than those few moments of confusion or combination of sources, this book is worth reading for those interested in language and its history.

  • Richard Subber
    2019-05-07 00:44

    I have found a beautiful book, and I want to share it with you. Indulge me.Owen Barfield, an Oxford graduate who loves language even more than I love it, wrote History in English Words in 1953. In his Foreword, W. H. Auden calls this delicate, powerful work “a weapon in the unending battle between civilisation and barbarism.” All foes of barbarism should procure a copy immediately.This is not an easy read, but it’s easy to keep reading it. Barfield brings his remarkable erudition to nearly every page; the reader learns much about words—in English, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and the Indo-European protolanguage—and learns much about history, philosophy, religion, literature, culture, mind and the deep structures of consciously human society. I’m not kidding. This book is unique in my experience.Here’s a casual teaser:“…it has been said that there are more [new words] in Shakespeare’s plays than in all the rest of the English poets put together.”Examples of the Bard’s imagination:advantageous, amazement, critic, dishearten, dwindle, generous, invulnerable, majestic, obscene, pedant, pious, radiance, reliance, sanctimoniousThroughout 240 pages, Barfield implicitly emphasizes a dynamic point: new words are created continuously in all languages by all peoples, and old words continuously acquire new meanings in all cultures.The way we think and express our thoughts and feelings today could not have been done—in the fullness of our modern meanings and understandings—as little as 100 years ago.Take a minute and speak three carefully considered sentences about three topics that you think are important or exciting. Almost certainly, no human being has ever before experienced your exact thought processes and used precisely your words to express them.Spread the word.Read more of my book reviews on my websitehttp://richardsubber.com/

  • Stephen Hayes
    2019-04-21 23:38

    Barfield looks at the English language and the dates at which certain words entered the language, and what this can tell us of the prevailing social conditions. He takes this right back to words common to various Indo-European languages.

  • Patrick
    2019-05-02 04:40

    This is a very readable book that anyone with half an interest in history or in the English language ought to crack open and enjoy.

  • Michael
    2019-05-12 21:25

    I have always been interested in language, words and history, so it came as a shock — though a gradual one — that I very much disliked this book, which is a synthesis of all three. I found myself, more and more as the book went on, disagreeing with almost everything the writer said. For there are huge problems, not in the book's main subject but in its implications, with which Barfield is anything but shy. Owen Barfield is one of the sheerest relativists I've ever read, and his book's biggest flaw seems to stem from an uncertainty of the relationship between thoughts and feelings and concepts, and the words that are by them represented. In some places Barfield speaks of words as expressing basically human thoughts, but his more common outlook is that words enable us to have those thoughts in the first place. To some extent this is true: there are certain concepts we had not grasped before we learned the words for them, and in that sense the words quite definitely enabled the thoughts to exist. But to say that those thoughts, or feelings, or concepts, would not have, or could not have, existed without the words is, I think, foolish. It is not only unproven, it is unprovable. Also lacking is Barfield's interpretation of mythology and religion. He presents several statements as being positively known, while they are in reality conjectures at best; and his dismal knowledge of folklore and mythology undermines the credibility of the entire chapter on Myth (if not the whole book: for mythology expresses a great deal of truth about humanity, and Barfield likes to comment quite often on humanity). Barfield misses the mark quite widely when he describes all historical Romans as aspiritual, and fairies as spiritual. But these are only a few examples. While it is interesting to know that the word "prevaricate" came from an old word meaning "to plow outside the furrow", and that French is an amalgamation of Latin and the language of the Celtic Gauls, these flaws inherent in the general thrust of the book makes it hard to appreciate Barfield's scholarship except in the form of scattered gleanings. For if language is to make any sense in a genuinely human way, if it is to satisfy the merest criteria of common sense, then words must be understood not as the seed of thoughts and feelings (a metaphor Barfield uses more than once) but as their shell, their dried, outer husk. Words do indeed illuminate our history -- as a cicada's shell illuminates the history of a cicada: for they are things which grow from the inside out, not from the outside in. This is the most basic problem with the book. But almost equally odious is Barfield's staunch, almost unthinking modernism. One knows very well where Barfield's religious and political views lie. It is unfathomable to me why he was ever called "the first and last Inkling," when his views on everything important are so obviously contrary to most of the members of that group. Barfield speaks of shifts in morality, yet the examples he gives are not changes in how morality was conceived but rather changes in how failures to live up to morality were conceived. And it is clear in many cases that, to the author, the greatest tragedies of human history have been that it has not been able to scientifically understand the world for very long; which is to my mind one of the least important hurdles over which our race has leaped. In short, Owen Barfield is revealing as a linguist, but unreliable and quite biased as a historian. As I'd had such high expectations going in, this disappointment was all the more bitter to me going out. I would recommend saving one's self the trouble and skipping this.

  • Chris Griffith
    2019-04-24 04:44

    Excellent stuff - Barfield was brilliant.

  • Brian
    2019-05-21 02:48

    This book is very much like Charles Williams' Descent of the Dove, only with the English language. Artful, poetic descriptions of historical movements of thought and feeling, probably papering over annoying facts that serious scholarship might ruthlessly cross-examine without offering a more compelling story; such is the world I fear. For instance, at one point Barfield argues that tenderness entered the language from the worship of baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary, which C.S. Lewis seemed to push against in his notion of courtly love. Then again, he may have qualified it so I would have to go back and look at it again."Without making a study of the Septuagint, it is easy to perceive how passionate Hebrew meanings were gradually imported into the cold and clear-cut Greek words, until classical Greek had grown slowly into the 'Hellenistic' Greek of the New Testament. Seeking for words to convey such notions as 'sin', 'righteousness', 'defilement', 'abomination', 'ungodly', the Jewish translators had to do the best they could with noises which to Heraclitus and Plato had implied something more like 'folly', 'integrity', 'dirt', 'objectionable practice', 'ignorant', Any number of such examples could be found. The harmless Greek word 'eidolon' (idol), which had formerly meant any sort of mental image, including a mere mental fancy, suddenly found itself selected from its fellows to be spit upon and cast into outer darkness" -89. "On the whole it is a safe rule to assume that those who speak most contemptuously of such thinkers as Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus are the nearest modern representatives of their own idea of what these Schoolmen were; that is to say, they are those whose imaginations are most completely imprisoned within the intellectual horizon of the passing age."-109This sort of quote makes me happy that there is at least a desire to recover Hebraic thought now and that older philosophical notions should be questioned. However, we need to admit that such a recovery cannot be made by Biblicists or new paradigms. Anyway, the book is good, but just note that it is probably so well told that it's probably not quite true and should be double checked by specialists except in regards to the etymology which is uniformly instructive, though not as living as Studies in Words. Oh, and read THAT book if possible.

  • Krishna
    2019-05-16 00:33

    Owen Barfield was a member of the Inklings, a group of literary men who used to meet at the Eagle and Child (also called the Bird and Baby) at Oxford to read from their works to each other and talk. Other members of the group included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein. This particular book, as the title suggests, is an exploration of the history of English words, and what it says about the history of the people who speak that language. There are two parts to the book, and they are quite different -- the first is a historical presentation of the evolution of language. Through comparative philology, Barfield speculates on connections to other languages and the movement of peoples indicated by the transformation of sounds and meanings. A beautiful metaphor is of waves of people advancing over a territory, and the backwash mixing with a second advancing wave, and little eddies washing into the nooks and crannies of the landscape. The second part is divided into thematic sections -- like myth, devotion, philosophy, reason, imagination, experiment, and so on. Barfield discusses how the words used in each area and the evolution of their meaning over time indicates cultural transformations. One example, 'romances' originally meant the fanciful interpolations practiced by traveling bards who told well-known stories; and since many of these bards used the vernaculars and not the church approved Latin, these little fictions were called romances pejoratively, and the languages came to be called the Romance languages. 'Romance' at this time meant cheap fibs, not the picturesque or attractive. That sense had to await the time when the imaginative function came to be prized through literary movements such as Romanticism.The book does not have a lot of in-text citations, but the afterword credits the Oxford English Dictionary as the source of almost all word histories. The hard work of scholarship was already undertaken by the team that created the OED. Barfield demonstrates the rich potential of the OED to entertain and inform the diligent reader.

  • Phillip
    2019-04-26 01:51

    This is a wonderful book. I would recommend it to just about anyone. And, I'm not being facetious, sarcastic, or ironic. I really do like it.It is a tour of the evolutionary paths of author-chosen word groups from their ancient Greek or Latin origins, through their early English, and on to current usages. The tour has the over-all purpose of showing that humanity has undergone an evolution of consciousness since ancient times that means we do not think as the ancients did, experience the world the same, and has resulted in the present world itself being different from that of the ancients. Ultimately, think what you will of the thesis, it is a great tour.I have to clarify that I genuinely recommend the book because I can also characterize it as being like a 220 page version of Sheldon Cooper's fun facts, about every subject, from TV's The Big Bang Theory. Barfield provides almost unending minutiae of the origins of English Words. I don't find it to be a boar, but I can see how someone might. I urge the reader to be patient and to give it a chance. Imagine Barfield carrying on, "Did you know that..."This book would sit comfortably on the shelf with The Splendid Century: Life in the France of Louis XIV by fellow Inkling W.H. Lewis. It too is an anecdotal history but about France during the reign of Louis XIV. Both are fun to read. The Lewis book is often jocular in choice of anecdotes and in their presentions. I can imagine an uproarious reception when he read the manuscript to the Inklings. It wouldn't surprise me if it were crafted, to some degree, for that effect. Both are quality anecdotal histories written by members of the Inklings. I highly recommend them both.

  • Michael Fitzpatrick
    2019-05-20 04:47

    Barfield's fascinating journey through the history of the English civilization - as told from the perspective of our words. Throughout, he traces the evolution of our consciousness, the awareness we had of the world and how that awareness shaped what the world appeared to us as. He captures historic trends, revolutions, antagonisms, and moments of pure beauty. Throughout the reader is treated to the fascinating etymological histories of over two hundred very English words. Quite a treat, well-researched and documented. A great companion read to C.S. Lewis' "Studies in Words."

  • Sarah Riehl
    2019-05-07 23:38

    a somewhat specious treatment of how the english words we use shape the history we assent to. it was groundbreaking when it was written, and although it is now pretty outdated, it's a quick and absorbing read. it also suggests that christianity was created in alexandria around the "birth of christ" by the fusion of jewish, egyptian, and greek philosophies... you know, if the author weren't such a good anglican, he'd have his suspicions.

  • Suzannah
    2019-05-02 04:43

    This book tied my brain up in knots. It's a kind of history of the western psyche as expressed in the development of its words (word definitions being the primary human yardsticks for concepts). I want to review this more thoroughly later; I definitely want to re-read once or twice in an attempt to fit my head around it.

  • Hannah
    2019-05-16 01:23

    A wonderful book which puts history in perspective and puts humans in our place. A fascinating look at how language and our worldview developed.http://shakespeareswife.blogspot.co.u...

  • Richard Spilman
    2019-05-11 02:22

    This elegant little book, traces the intellectually history of the English speaking world through its words. Wonderfully erudite, accessible and understated. A brilliant book, and you don't have to be a word-freak to love it.

  • Wendy 'windmill'
    2019-04-30 03:30

    ExcellentReally interesting read! Looking back on the history of the English language, written in wonderful style & adding to it the thoughts of the figures of that time.

  • Steve
    2019-05-05 01:37

    Wonderful. Barfield traces our language back in through word roots and usage and draws worldview, theological and social conclusions that are astounding.

  • Scott Burton
    2019-05-19 03:32

    Language and words... such fascinating topics, such games we can play with them. This book appreciates the power of the word and lets the reader have fun while exploring that power.

  • Carrie
    2019-05-14 21:24

    Fascinating...what would he make of emojis? Are we cycling back to an earlier stage of communication or evolving forward?

  • siddeeqah
    2019-04-20 01:32

    Written with an obvious bias towards English superiority

  • Steve
    2019-05-03 22:36

    This is the second time through and it's part of my journey through Barfield. Next, Saving the Appearances and then Poetic Diction.

  • Anna
    2019-04-24 22:25

    I doubt I will ever actually finish this book...

  • Leila Bowers
    2019-05-09 00:49

    Interesting - didn't finish all of it, but the most accessible of Barfield's work that I have encountered.