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Wordgloss: A Cultural Lexicon

By: Jim O’Donnell

(1 customer review)


Wordgloss: A Cultural Lexicon by Jim O’Donnell

Words and phrases are the common currency of our lives. We use them, exchange them, discard them, drawing on a wordhoard accumulated over thousands of years. But often we use them carelessly. What exactly do we mean, for example, when we refer to a draconian measure, an apocryphal story or laisser-faire policies?

One of the great cultural losses of our time is the virtual abandonment of Latin and Greek. Wordgloss restores these classical references that our education no longer provides. It is full of the words and concepts you always meant to look up, telling you where they came from and how they acquired the meanings they now have.

First published to acclaim in 1990, this lively and engaging reference book has been extensively reworked and extended. Through its mini-essays, it explores categories that embrace law, politics, science, technology, literature, philosophy and the arts, illuminating each with its store of wisdom.

Wordgloss is for everyone – expert and amateur, journalist and politician, civil servant and speechwriter, teacher and student, writer and reader. It is a treasure-trove that will intrigue, delight and enrich, and it belongs on every desk, library shelf and bedside table.

Wordgloss is a vast grid of knowledge and information, as dense as chain mail and as intricate as a spiderweb. It is wide-ranging, erudite, accommodating and witty … a real reference work that will carry the reader far beyond the dictionary.’ – John Banville

O‘Donnell’s book is a treasury of knowledge.’ – Aengus Fanning, The Independent


JIM O’DONNELL has spent his career publishing books and writing them – the Administration Yearbook & Diary, which he originated, is an indispensable reference work for all those managing Ireland’s government and business. He was assistant general director of the Institute of Public Administration when he retired in 1999. He is the author of How Ireland is Governed (1968) and Wordplay (1992). He is currently secretary to the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution.


1 review for Wordgloss: A Cultural Lexicon

  1. Lilliput Press

    “Was this the wish of the Demiurge? Boston to Washington DC is a conurbation! Cui bono?! Do we live in a lexical dystopia awaiting a thaumaturgic gloss revival? Who today knows that “pleonasms are tautologous and should be avoided.” Errata need not be repetitive – a verisimilitude! Do you need this book? Do you know the words? Author Jim O’Donnell (book Foreword by John Banville) writes in his preface that “the extraordinary expansion of modern knowledge and its fission into micro-specialties” has created “a niagara of words and concepts flowing from a wide range of disciplines that we have never explored.” The everyday result is that our increasingly sophisticated modern world of communications is confronted by the Hydra-headed cultural stumbling block of a classics-based “verbal universe” manifesting an erstwhile lexical heritage to which most readers no longer have any personal or educational connection. Wordgloss is not a quintessential corrective panacea for this problem, but O’Donnell writes that “Wordgloss is full of the words and concepts you always meant to look up. It tells you where they came from and how they acquired the meaning or meanings they now have.” The book is written “associatively”, which is “pedagogically” more effective than the “linear” scientific style of dictionaries. Definitely a fun and educating vade-mecum read. Fons et origo!” ANDIS KAULINS

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Weight 1 kg
Dimensions 235 × 155 mm
Publication Date

November 2005


Paperback, 336pp