Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi" by Chloe Rhodes (nonfiction)

This is a great new reference work that you might just find yourself curling up with as if it were a novel.  It explores 'the origin of foreign words used in English', and some of them are pretty amusing.

For example, our term paparazzi referred to the Italian word for mosquito and was related to a Fellini film (how appropriate is that!).  And when you say someone has a lot of panache, you probably aren't referring to the feather on their hat, but that is where the word derives from:  a plume of feather that exuded flair (French origin).  Now we consider panache more of an expression of style (i.e. Johnny Depp has the trademark on panache)!  Another interesting word in our literary world is denouement, which originated in the French and referred to 'an untying'.  That makes sense, as when we get to the denouement of the book all the complexities usually are unravelled and our understanding is clear.

I enjoyed the different choices of phrases and the accurate explanation of what they originally meant.  I always thought Quid Pro Quo meant doing something for free, somewhat mixing it up with Pro Bono.  Both of my interpretations were wrong:  quid pro quo means something done in exchange for something else (not free).  Pro Bono means something done 'for the good' as in a public service.

This is a reference work useful to almost anyone, but I can't help but think a high school or college student might especially benefit from the explanations and fast paced instruction.  My only disappointment was that the book doesn't offer pronounciations with the phrases.  Most are obvious, but a few really could use a guide on how to correctly pronounce the phrase (thus settling many dinner party disputes).

Thanks to Julie Harabedian from FSB Associates for the Advanced Review Copy.


  1. I really enjoyed your review. I've seen the book before but wasn't certain if it would suit my tastes. I'm glad I saw your post on Book Blogs. Now I have another title to add to my TBR list. :)

  2. I've always looked up word/phrase/idiom origins--- this book sounds fun and interesting!