Thursday, 7 January 2010

Fun books about words

The holidays are a great time to read. For most people. I'm tending my books like a giant orchard, seeing the covers and musing about the ones I've read, the ones I haven't and the ones I'm permanently part way through.

I found a collection of books about the English Language, and thought they were worth blogging about (especially since some were sent to me for review!).

These are mostly entertaining, but also great for your brain. Curiosity's good for you, and these books encourage you to keep following your curiosity about language.

Away with Words by Ruth Wajnryb is a "frolic through the landscape of language". It's the kind of book you can dip into when you feel like it, with each chapter exploring the history of a particular word. Wajnryb is like a comedian, in that she asks very pertinent, quite funny questions - but she also knows language, so she's doubly helpful. She's written another, similar book called Cheerio Tom, Dick and Harry about the kind of words we just don't hear any more (like cheerio).

Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary a) breaks your spell-checker, and b) asks why nobody can spell? It answers that question pretty quickly; the English language is fiendishly difficult to get right (as the word fiendish attests). What Eats, Shoots and Leaves did for punctuation, Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary does for spelling, although with not as much publicity.
In format it's more of an encyclopedia (or encyclopaedia) or almanac, another one you can dip into as you please.

Ducks in a Row: An A-Z of Offlish is an entertaining look at the kind of language we use in business. What's cool is that many of the definitions are pretty accurate, even helpful, and then the snark jumps in and adds a dash of funny. For example:

1. (n) a nonconformist (from Samuel Maverick, a 19th century Texas cattle-raiser)
2. (n) An idiosyncratic rule-breaker and entrepreneur whose gambles have been marvellously rewarded.

Usage: fawning journalists, cowed executives and managers.

See also Entrepreneur, Monster

(And this was published before Palin!)

The Superior Person's Third Book of Words is an utterly useless book except for the humour value of having it on the shelf. It is full of words you never knew existed for things you didn't know existed.

For example: necrencephalus = a softening of the brain. The book adds, "Superior insult word". Nice!

Actually, it's not completely useless. It could be useful if you are genuinely that insecure to make people want to think you're clever because you use long words, or if you need to find really obscure words for passwords or server names.

Not only that, it's funny and it will teach you stuff you never needed to know. Not that useless after all!

It's a bit late for gift suggestions, but if you're a writer or an engaged reader, this will tickle your brain and your funnybone, and make you a generally awesome person to be around.

I'm living proof. Apparently.

(Photo from here)

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