Thanks to numerous anecdotes about the old and new ways of the lexicography, I quite enjoyed The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of it All at the Oxford English Dictionary, the memoir of John Simpson, former Chief Editor. Simpson was a participant and prime mover in the huge changes to the OED, which saw the dictionary finally being produced, "from the computer database, not from copper plates." Because of the unique insights into the most important and impressive dictionary in English, this is a book any word lover should enjoy. Continue reading...
It's mind-boggling that many people who profess to love language have bizarre, backwards ideas about it based on superstition and hokum. Educated folks who mock evolution-deniers have no problem believing equally unsupported ideas about language—such as "English is worse than ever!" and "Words shouldn't change!" Continue reading...
Garner's Modern English Usage, which just released its fourth edition, is potentially a damn useful thing to me. And after looking through Bryan A. Garner's latest, I can report that the potential is realized: this is an extremely useful and sensible guide. I don't know if I would sleep with it under my pillow, but I won't keep it far from my desk. Continue reading...
Topics: Books Language Usage
No matter what generation you were born in, your destiny is to hear incessant blather about generations, as journalists are obsessed by the topic, particularly when it comes to making the younger generation seem like unholy mutants born to usher in the end of days. Allan Metcalf's new word book—From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generations—is a timely read for era-obsessed readers with a taste for history and, of course, words. Continue reading...
Do you like sowing your wild oaks? Do you sometimes feel like a social leopard? Could you use a new leaf on life? Or do you just enjoy the infinite creativity of the English language, even when people make mistakes? If you answered yes to any of the above, you need to check out Robert Alden Rubin's terrific new book Going to Hell in a Hen Basket: An Illustrated Dictionary of Modern Malapropisms. Continue reading...
Topics: Usage Books Language
Have you ever struggled to explain a nuclear meltdown caused by an incredibly stupid mistake? You would have been grateful for alternative terms, such as "a core rearrangement caused by an ill-advised learning opportunity." You can find these terms and more in Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceitful Language. Continue reading...
Topics: Usage Books Language
Although turkeys were domesticated by Native Americans, turkey itself is not a Native American word. In this excerpt from a new book The Language of Food, linguist and Stanford University professor Dan Jurafsky charts the complicated path the word turkey followed into English, then serves up a slice of etymological pecan pie. Continue reading...
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