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WORDCATCHER: An Odyssey Into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words

Links to interviews with Phil Cousineau on WORDCATCHER:


"Phil Cousineau is a word wizard and his book, Wordcatcher, is a delightful adventure into a magical world. As I read his amazing etymological explanations of words from eldritch to floccinaucinihilipilification to lagniappe, I begin to understand why the bible says “ in the beginning was the Word.” Phil has made clear that words don’t merely describe reality. They create it."
—Deepak Chopra

“Phil Cousineau’s Wordcatcher is a wonderful meditation on words that can be read from beginning to end if you are obsessed with speech, greedy for mountain air, and into enlightened verbal play. Not a dry lexical listing, each word Cousineau chooses sings with cellos, vagabonds through tongues and history, and bounces like a balloon on the moon, and as high as his quirky imagination takes us. Compelled reading for residence in the ancient synagogue of the word.”
—Willis Barnstone, author of The Restored New Testament and Ancient Greek Lyrics

“Stake out a claim next to the standard dictionary you use for this less-pendantic companion. It contains fewer words but sends up Fourth of July skyrockets on all of them. But caveat emptur, readers beware! Cousineau’s love affair with words is contagious and you are likely to end up lovesick with words yourself.”
—Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions and Tales of Wonder

"I am awed by Phil Cousineau's scholarship and the overall view he has of inner matters. He has a genius for the soulful dimensions of words, and a rare intelligence for communicating the numinous dimension of language. Wordcatcher will grace the lives of all who read it, and inspire them to respect, even revere words as much as its author does."
—Robert A. Johnson, author of He, She, and A Slender Thread

“A book that allows us to remember the genius of language—to see, feel and, it seems, even ‘taste’ the living-ness and poetry hidden within these many common and uncommon words. A delicious book.”
—Jacob Needleman, author of What Is God?

"Writer, filmmaker, and Joseph Campbell biographer Phil Cousineau recounts a lifetime of collecting precious words.... Wordcatcher is a sumptuous feast for the logophile, featuring words like the dreamily melancholic "aphilophrenia" (the haunting feeling one is unloved). But lest you get a case of "hippomonstrosesquipedaliophobia" (the fear of long words), some plain language gems such as "sulky" and "jinx" also nestle among the pages."



Phil Cousineau writes in the introduction to WORDCATCHER, "To create my own “word-hoard,” in Tolkien’s utterly gorgeous description, I have used a simple standard. Each and every “headword” that is explored here evoked in me an “Aha!” when I first encountered it....

First, all of these words have surprising derivations, like baffle, an old Scottish word to describe a disgraced knight.

Second, each word here is either fun to say, such as bamboozle, or mellifluous to hear, such as swaff.

Third, I’ve included “companion words” at the end of each word story, in the spirit of those close friends who enjoy dining out together, a practice which honors a lifelong practice of mine of meandering from one word to another in my myriad dictionaries. Seeing how desultory, consultant, and result are all related to the old Roman word for the trick rider who leapt from horse to horse makes our language, well, jump off the page.

Fourth, I’ve introduced a few common words in uncommon ways, coming at them from a different angle to help us see them in fresh, even startling ways. For example, the everyday word story is so recognizable it is almost impossible to appreciate its lapidary meanings. So I introduce it within the story poles, an ancient term for marking the ground for a building about to go up, which also serves as a vivid metaphor for laying the foundation of our lives with narratives. Likewise with myth, a word so common and so abused I have revived mythosphere, a brilliant coinage by essayist and mythologist Alexander Eliot, to describe the “atmosphere” of sacred stories that surrounds us at all times.

Fifth, I have tried to offer a great range of citations, from Mae West to the Marx Brothers, to illustrate how the words are actually used. In a word, this book of weird, wonderful and wild word stories is a game of catch..."

Phil signs books at Book Passage in San Francisco's Ferry Building after his KQED-FM "Forum" interview.