Friday, 2 November 2012

Author Visit: Mark Forsyth

Everyone who replies to this post before midnight 8th November will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of The Horologicon. (Open to everyone, worldwide)  

I did an event with the lovely Mark at the Highgate and Hampstead Literary Festival this summer, where we talked about blogs and books and getting blogs turned into books. Mark's first book The Etymologicon came out last year and was a #1 Sunday Times Bestseller. His new book, The Horologicon, is out this week and promises to be just as excellent.

The Horologicon (or book of hours) gives you the most extraordinary words in the English language, arranged according to the hour of the day when you really need them. Do you wake up feeling rough? Then you're philogrobolized. Pretending to work? That's fudgelling, which may lead to rizzling if you feel sleepy after lunch. It's all very charming and witty. So, pull up a seat and listen to what Mark has to say!

Mark! Welcome to the blog. Do take a seat. Actually, what would be the most interesting way to say ‘rest’ or ‘sit down’?

My favourite is soss from Dr Johnson’s Dictionary. He defined it as “Soss: To fall at once into a chair”. I’ve done that a thousand times, but never had the word for it until I found it in Johnson’s dictionary.

Excellent! Let us soss. What started your love of etymology?

It’s impossible to pin it to a particular moment. It’s more that sudden rush of realisation you can get when you realise two words are connected. I remember once toddling around the Capuchin Crypt in Rome, which is one of the freakiest damned places on earth. For centuries the Capuchin monks would leave their bones to be turned into bad taste interior decoration. It’s like a branch of Habitat run by a serial killer. And my first thought was Capuchin-cappuccino – is there a connection? The answer was yes: the coffee is the same colour as the monks’ robes.

What’s your favourite word at the moment?

I’ve just discovered somatico-hedonistic, which means relating to the pleasures of the body. Not that I have many, but at least I’ll have a word when they come along. I also rather like bibliopolistically, which means “in a manner befitting a bookseller”. (Jen: I do like that one)

Tell our blog readers how your first book, The Etymologicon, came to be published.

I wandered into a book launch, got apocalyptically drunk, and cornered somebody from the publishers, saying “You’ve got to publish a book bashed on my blog”. They did.

What’s the one main thing you’ve learnt about the publishing industry that you didn’t know before you were published?

So many things. The difference between sold and sold in and trade and mass market. The strange mixture of glacial slowness and volcanic speed. The ready availability of cheap red wine.

What was the most exciting part of the publication process, for you?

A writer I know once told me that seeing your first child in the maternity ward is the second best experience in life after seeing your name on the cover of a real book. I’ve never had a child.

The Horologicon goes through a typical day, inserting old words in places you’d most likely use them. What’s your favourite part of the day, with regard to its strange words?

Very hard to say. I had great fun with the drinking and the wooing. There are some fantastic words in there like snecklifter (somebody with no money who wanders into a pub in the hope that he’ll see someone who’ll buy him a drink) and dangler (someone who follows a girl around without asking the question). But the really surprising part was the supermarket. I felt I ought to have a trip to the shops after work, but I had no idea there would be such beautiful vocabulary involved. It’s as though supermarkets were all designed by poets: the light thieves, the aisle leapers, the shelf misers, the gondolas. I’ve never been able to look at Budgens in the same way since.

How do you do your research?

For the Horologicon it’s mainly reading through dictionaries cover to cover, which I actually enjoy because I’m a very lonely, boring man. The trick is to find the good dictionaries, which are all stored in the British Library. A lot of them are actually quite short. For example, Cab Calloway’s Dictionary of Hepcat Slang is only fifteen pages or so. But there’s a lot of material in there.

You’ve travelled to various places promoting the books. You were in South Africa recently. What did you learn about South African wordage on your travels?

They call traffic lights robots down there, which I found surprising. But then I discovered that when the very first traffic lights were installed in London in the 20s, the Evening Standard called them Robot Policemen. So they’ve still got the original term, if slightly shortened. Another strange word is soutpiel, which is an offensive Afrikaans term for anyone with a British connection. Soutpiel literally means “salt penis”, because you’ve got one foot in South Africa, one foot in Britain, and your willy dangling in the Atlantic Ocean.

Ha! Excellent. What books have you read recently? Any recommendations?

For various odd reasons, I’ve been reading nothing but Nigerian books for the last month. Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, which is a fantastic story about the secret bitchiness in a polygamous marriage; and Noo Saro-Wiwa’s Looking For Transwonderland, which is a travelogue about going back to Nigeria for the first time in ten years. Both are fantastic.

What would you like to do in the future?

Get back to fiction. The trouble with writing factual books is that you have to check that you’re telling the truth, and truth is a tedious constraint. 


 Mark's blog / Follow Mark on Twitter / The Horologicon Tour

Everyone who replies to this post before midnight 7th November will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of The Horologicon. (Open to everyone, worldwide)   


  1. What a brilliant interview. I love all that word-nerd sort of thing and devoured the Etymologicon, (Loved the snippet about the word "feisty" - will never look at that word the same way again.)

  2. How fitting this post and interview should come out just prior to our "fall back" in the States. ;)

  3. What an interesting book, and a great interview!

  4. Only recently found your blog and will be looking into buying your book! Mark Forsyth's books look interesting as well - reminds me of Douglas Adams "The Meaning of Liff"

  5. Hilarious! I think I would have a blast reading this. Jolly good interview. Ciao cat

  6. Enjoyed this interview; I love words and have been collecting books about etymology over the years; I look forward to looking Forsyth's books!

  7. Utsuri: reflections between each new word in your book. Wonderful!


  8. I love words and wordplay, will definitely have to check this out along with The Etymologicon!

  9. Makes me want to dust off my copy of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

  10. Great interview as always. Love the Etymologicon and would be thrilled to have the new one. He has inspired me to keep a commonplace book of words and phrases (and quotations) so kudos to the Inky Fool!

  11. I haven't ever read anything related to Etymology, but the subject fascinates me... I think I might just enjoy reading this one!

  12. I love learning lost words and lost meanings in the English language! Hats off to you, sir.

  13. Brilliant! Now I've got two books to add to my must reads list (how'd I miss the first one . . .?). Thanks for the great interview.

  14. Brilliant! Now I have two fascinating books to look forward to. (How I managed to miss his first, I have no idea . . . .) Thanks for the fun interview.

  15. This reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Word Museum: The Best Words Ever Forgotten. Its a dictionary type book but the words contained within are marvelous.

  16. I have always been fascinated with obscure, interesting words in the English language. I will definitely enjoy reading "The Horologicon". And what a great title, too!

  17. I have always been interested in the origins of obscure English words. I will definitely enjoy reading "The Horologist". And what a great title too!

  18. This is exactly the kind of book I need in my life! =)

  19. This is exactly the kind of book I need in my life! Great interview =0

  20. I love the sound of this book. I've developed into quite the linguistics nerd in the last couple of years and I'm looking forward to getting myself a copy of The Entymologicon (providing all my Christmas hints go completely unnoticed). ;)

  21. Thanks for this interview, I'll definitely have to check these books out. I love reading dictionaries too!

  22. Interesting stuff. The Etymologicon is sitting on my Kindle awaiting attention, so I guess I'll have to add this one now too.

  23. I love the sound of this book if only to get my own back on my husband who is a mind of (mostly) useless information which I cannot hope to compete with. At least, armed with The Horologicon, I can fight back!

  24. I can see all sorts of uses for this kind of knowledge!

  25. This is fascinating; I love the concept and I love the interview. The books sounds like the perfect dip-into-conversation-starter. Fabulous stuff Jen, as always <3

  26. Oh, lost words. With winter soon to be upon us, this will help greatly.
    Thanks Jen

  27. This looks like an absolutely AWESOME book. Definitely on my Christmas list!

  28. This looks like an absolutely AWESOME book. Definitely on my Christmas list!

  29. Thanks to everyone for entering :D The winner picked by random number generator was Jo Wilkinson.

    Everyone else - do head out and buy a copy of The Horologicon; it's a wonderful book. :)

    1. Yeah for me! *happy dance*
      Thanks Jen <3