Julian Walker

Books on language

Home | Languages and the First World War | Introduction | Gone Away, 2010 | Births, Chimneys and Lightermen - Collecting Greenwich Peninsula, 2008 | Words and Forgetting, 2007 | Encounters with Objects, EV+A, Limerick 2006 | Art out of place, Norwich, 2005 | Interventionist embroidery | Treat Yourself, 2003 | The Best in Heritage, 2002 | Hygiene, 2002 | Art & Work Award 2002 | Unit 2 Gallery, 2002 | Lies & Belonging, 2001 | Walking On Eggshells, 2000 | In The Picture, 2000 | New Contemporaries 99 | Projects 1995 to 2001 | Mr and Mrs Walker have moved, 1998 | Curriculum Vitae | Smaller Individual Works | Work data: size, date, medium | Writing | Reviews | Catalogue Texts | Current work | Drawing | The British Library | Do Bees Like Van Gogh? | Transmission: Provenance - talk Nov 2004 | Tablets and sculptures | Educational work | Books on language

Trench Talk, Words of the First World War
with Peter Doyle
History Press, 2012
A survey of how the English language developed a during and after the conflict, including explorations of slang, officialese, and the influences of other languages. Recommended by the Foreign Office for its Christmas reading list 2012.

Team Talk
Shire books, 2011, illustrated
Sporting words and their origins, organised thematically, with an essay on how the historical development of sport was reflected and defined in language.

Evolving English Explored
The British Library
Publication November 2010
46 pages, illustrated

Commissioned by the British Library as a companion book to the exhibition Evolving English:One Language, Many Voices (November 2010 to April 2011) this book is a concise exploration of the English language, its history and development.  Looking at subjects such as accent and dialect, swearing, genre, standards, play, and education, the book uses examples from the exhibition to show the breadth of ways we can look at English.  Lavishly illustrated throughout with images of works in the British Library collection, drawings and cartoons. 

Discovering Words
Shire Books
Publication September 2009
128 pages, illustrated
For centuries English has assimilated words from other languages.  Discovering Words offers a  treasury of word histories showing the variety of ways the words we use have evolved.  The book is arranged into subjects, within which a selection of words are traced back through the stages by which they came to be part of the English language, and through more recent changes over time in form and meaning.  Historical dictionaries such as Johnson’s and Webster’s are referenced throughout, especially where there has been disagreement over the histories and ‘proper’ form of words.
Discovering Words provides an enticing introduction to the subject of etymology, showing how the words we use hold the histories of human interaction and communication.
The introduction includes a brief history of the English language over the past 1500 years.
Discovering Words can be ordered pre-publication from Shire Books or Amazon


The ‘spades’ which appear in a deck of playing cards derive from the Spanish and Portuguese espada, though as this design transferred to first French and then British playing cards it came to look more like a digging tool than a sword. Words similar to ‘spade’ meaning ‘a digging tool’ are common to several Germanic languages, from Icelandic to Dutch, and may derive from the Greek spathe, meaning ‘a blade of a paddle or sword’.  In the Corpus Glossary, an eighth century glossary of Latin and Old English words, the Latin vangas is translated as spadan.  The anonymous author may claim to be the first person who called a spade a spade.



Despite immediate impressions ‘miniature’ has no etymological link with ‘mini’.  It comes from a Mediaeval Latin term describing working on illuminated manuscripts in red, using ‘minium’, or red pigment.  This pigment was originally cinnabar, mercuric oxide, but later the word was used for the much cheaper lead oxide.  Cinnabar was one of the most brilliant and expensive pigments used on decorated manuscripts and was thus used sparingly, in such small quantities that the word ‘minium’ became the root for ‘working small’ in any medium.  The sixteenth and seventeenth century forms ‘miniture’ and ‘minuture’ were temporary attempts to make sense of the spelling after the arrival of imports of cochineal from America had made obsolete the link between briliant red and restrictive expense.


‘A group of sounds heard together’ has been a meaning of this word since the thirteenth century, when the word was adopted from Anglo-Norman.  This derived from the Old French noise or noyse, meaning ‘noise or tumult’, which developed into various ideas surrounding unrest; these had ultimately come from the Latin nausea, meaning ‘disgust or annoyance’.  Various English dialects maintained the sense of ‘unrest’ or ‘quarrel’ up to the early twentieth century.  For a period in the sixteenth century your ‘noise’ was your ‘reputation’, a usage which has been retained in the phrase ‘a big noise in the world of …’ 

It should provoke great after dinner discussion - not only on the histories of the words it contains but on wider questions of language. For example Walker proposes that we shouldn't worry about fixing English because the language is always changing, to its benefit, and "the likelihood of a fixed set of spellings, meanings and usages is as remote now as it was when in 1712 Jonathan Swift complained about 'a succession of affected phrases, and new, conceited words'". A real challenge for those who insist on the idea of a fixed or correct usage of English language.


from Amazon review by ‘A Reader’


If you have an active interest in etymology and want to know more about the origin of words that we use in our everyday life or if you simply want to impress your friends with interesting facts and stories, this book is for you. With a format easy to carry around and content arranged in an intuitive and clear way, Discovering Words will be one of those books that you keep referring to and don’t just put away on a shelf.


from review by ‘Brighton Blogger’ http://bookafterbook.blogspot.com/2009/11/discovering-words.html

Discovering Words in the Kitchen
Publication May 2010
96 pages, illustrated

Discovering Words in the Kitchen explores the history of words to do with cooking, food and recipes.  The introduction gives a history of food in English, looking at how the adopting of foreign words and the adaptation of existing words provide a history of English cooking, and how this developed through the English-speaking world. 


The histories of some 250 words are given, with reference to cookery books and recipes dating back to Anglo-Saxon times.  Modern and historical dictionaries and writers on etymology are referenced throughout.  The word histories often show unexpected changes of form and meaning, and show where foods and cooking methods came from, and their often surprisingly late or early arrival in the English kitchen.