London, Nov 25 : A book, which studies the origin of some of the most common words used in the English language, has beaten the Man Booker winner to win the John Llewellyn Rhys prize.
'The Secret Life of Words' by Henry Hitchings traces the origin of the words and their meanings, a feat which has won the author one of the few book awards spanning genres from novels and poetry to non-fiction.
Through the study, Hitchings was able to throw light on how Germanic, French and Latin influences seeped into the language through Anglo Saxon, Norman and later medieval periods, with the book also looking at the large Arabic contribution to modern English.
A Middle Eastern touch could be seen in words such as alchemy and algebra through the usage of the prefix 'al', with the word 'admiral' being an Anglicised version of 'amiir al-bahr', meaning 'commander of the sea'.
Words like marmalade may be used at the English breakfast table, but the book states that its origins are Portuguese, a word that was originally used for quince jelly.
Even India has contributed to the words used in the English language, with the word 'bungalow' having its origins from Asia, and literally meaning 'belonging to Bengal', a term that was imported during the era of empire. Hitchings first tasted critical and commercial success three years ago with his book Dr Johnson's Dictionary, the subject of an earlier doctoral thesis.
"I've always been interested in etymology and word histories, but the experience of writing about Johnson and his lexicographical efforts really heightened that interest," the Telegraph quoted him as saying.
"I'm curious about the history of language generally, but English vocabulary seemed a particularly rich seam to mine.
"I wanted to use language as a way of opening up historical vistas, rather than doing the more usual thing of beginning with the history and then mapping the language," he added.
Aravind Adiga, who wrote the 2008 Man Booker winner The White Tiger, was among the shortlisted writers seen off by Hitchings to lift the award, which was presented at a ceremony in London (on Monday).
Henry Sutton, chair of judges, has hailed the book as reaching across all boundaries, with English being the world's language.
"Hitchings's scope is vast, tackling issues of communication, immigration, war, religion and community," Sutton said.
"Yet he never forgets that underpinning it all is the dynamism of English - truly a world language.
"This is a big, important book, a landmark in many ways, which will be read and enjoyed for years," he added.