Why is Q Always Followed by U?, By Michael Quinion

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The Independent Culture

Michael Quinion's book responds to oft-asked questions about language, usually concerning the provenance of common words and phrases. There are some surprises: The characteristically British "stiff upper lip" is actually an Americanism, for example.

I was interested to discover how often comedy and coinage go hand in hand: "curate's egg" dates back to a catchphrase in a satirical Punch cartoon; the "dreaded lurgi", now a byword for illness in Australia and New Zealand as well as in this country, was a Spike Milligan neologism; that great football cliché "sick as a parrot" has its origins in Monty Python's famous "dead parrot" sketch.

But for every entry that has an intriguing etymological tale behind it, there are many more in which Quinion is able to offer little more than informed guesswork, until the phrase "we don't know" becomes something of a refrain. Ultimately, his book is likely to satisfy only the most ardent lexophile.