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Language Arts & Disciplines Etymology

Strange Bedfellows

The Private Lives of Words

by (author) Howard Richler

Ronsdale Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2010
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2010
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Mar 2010
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 15
  • Grade: 10


The English language has never been overly concerned with purity. For centuries it has slept around and been seduced by many foreign influences, indulging in promiscuous relations that have contributed to many alluring word histories. Combining his etymological talents with those of the muck-raking journalist, Howard Richler exposes the often louche baggage that many words have accumulated throughout the centuries.

Discover how "exuberant" used to mean "luxuriantly fertile" and derivesoriginally from "overflowing udders." Learn how words such as "avocado" and "porcelain" have past associations with some of the nether regions of the body that have been conveniently forgotten by the lovers of fruit and fine china.

With over two hundred select words to uncover, readers will be surprised and delighted by the unexpected liaisons in Strange Bedfellows.

About the author

Howard Richler is a long-time logophile who has served as a language columnist for several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of seven previous books on language, including The Dead Sea Scroll Palindromes (1995), Take My Words:A Wordaholic’s Guide to the English Language (1996), A Bawdy Language: How a Second-Rate Language Slept its Way to the Top (1999), Global Mother Tongue: The Eight Flavours of English (2006), Can I Have a Word with You (2007), Strange Bedfellows: The Private Lives of Words (2010), How Happy Became Homosexual: And Other Mysterious Semantic Shifts (2013), and most recently, Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit. Richler resides in Montreal with his partner Carol, where he struggles to be fluent not only in French but in the many flavours of the English language.You can check out his language musings and daily word puzzles on Facebook at and on Twitter @howardrichler, or visit his wordnerd blog at

Howard Richler's profile page

Librarian Reviews

Strange Bedfellows: The Private Lives of Words

With over two hundred select words to uncover in this handy reference book, readers will be surprised and amused to discover the origin of familiar words. Richler’s sixth book on the English language traces the origin of each word, and illustrates how the meaning of a word has changed over the course of time. Discover how “exuberant” used to mean “luxuriantly fertile”. Richler has organized the book into 18 chapters in which he has culled 10 or more words from a specific field or topic. For example, one chapter is devoted to words that come from “unmentionable body parts”, another is based on words that were originally insults and another deals with words that came from Arabic. The index facilitates retrieval of all the entries included in the book.

Richler’s other books include Can I Have a Word With You and Global Mother Tongue.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. BC Books for BC Schools. 2010-2011.

Other titles by Howard Richler