We have so many words for sad thoughts and emotions, which means it is much easier for us to moan rather than celebrate. In fact, many more positive words did once exist, but they have been left behind over the centuries, and others have been forgotten altogether.
The first thing to note is that Roots of Happiness is not a story book. Rather, as the subheading says, it is “100 words for joy and hope”. And goodness, what a wonderful range of words Susie Dent (yes, from Dictionary Corner) brings us, and not just from English!
In the intro, Dent explains that she picked not only words that relate to happiness, but words that specifically bring her joy. This is why you’ll find such delights as ‘niveous’ (for when snow is so white it’s as if it’s shimmering) and ‘soss’ (falling with a thud onto something soft), alongside ‘cheer’ and ‘ebullient’.
The entries vary from very short to a couple of paragraphs, containing an explanation of the word’s meaning, and sometimes its origin or a visual description of how the word can make you feel. The book is collated chronologically, and even features recent words (we’ve all had a ‘snaccident’ after all!) that older readers might be less familiar with.
Normally there are one or two entries per page, which is a good way to stop them from feeling overlong. Occasionally, however, one is spread across two pages, taking the opportunity to really showcase Hobday’s glorious illustrations. Her drawings are full of colour and life, and are the perfect match for a book designed to impart such joy.
The variety of words, and Dent’s way of talking about them, makes this a truly charming book for all ages. It would be a fun one to share with young readers by encouraging them to pick a word and then find a use for it during the day (although offerings such as ‘vermicelli’ might prove challenging outside of dinnertime!).
This is a beautiful book, and an utter delight to read, whether going through page-by-page, or simply dipping in. It’s a real reminder of how surprising, strange, and wonderful language can be. And it was lovely to find Lynda’s favourite word in there: ‘serendipity’ (“the making of happy and unexpected discoveries”)!
Now I just need one of my own…hmm, halcyon? No wait, yakamoz! Oh, what about thunderplump…?
If you want to find that word (you know the one, it’s on the tip of your tongue), then you can grab a copy of Roots of Happiness at the link below.
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Looking for more non-fiction books? If so, you can see our previous reviews here.