The Word Guy: Yule love these new books
I'm dreaming of a word Christmas — thanks to a blizzard of new books about words and language.
Pick up one — or six! — for your favorite language lover — and perhaps, that's you.
When Webster's Third New International Dictionary appeared in 1961, purists pounced on its “radical” usage judgments, such as its inclusion of “ain't” and its suggestion that the distinction between “enormity” and “enormousness” was fading. Oh my! David Skinner chronicles the contretemps in “The Story of ‘Ain't' — America, Its Language and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published” (Harper Collins, $26.99).
Speaking of “ain't,” the former slave and abolitionist leader Sojourner Truth deployed that verb with dramatic effect in her acclaimed “Ain't I a Woman” speech.
Veteran journalist and teacher Constance Hale cites Truth's oration to demonstrate the vigor of verbs in “Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch — Let Verbs Power Your Writing” (Norton, $26.95). Her handy tips will help your verbs crackle, spit and thunder.
“Bimbo,” a shortening of the Italian word “bambino,” was first used to demean men, not women. “Fanatic,” which was derived from the Latin word for a temple, once referred to someone possessed by a deity. You'll discover fascinating word stories like these in “The Unexpected Evolution of Language” by Justin Cord Hayes (Adams, $13.95).
And, for the surprising origins of today's cliches, check out “The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread” by Nigel Fountain (Reader's Digest, $14.99).
“Movers and shakers,” for instance, first appeared in a Victorian poem, where it described not captains of industry but “music makers ... world losers and world forsakers.”
For adolescents struggling to sort out conjunctions, clauses and dangling participles, the American Heritage Student Grammar Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin, $13.95) offers clear, concise definitions of grammar and usage terms.
Geared to students in grades six through 12, this gleeful glossary illustrates its entries with cartoons and catchy sentences instead of rulers across the knuckles.
Just for fun, pick up “Tyrannosaurus Lex” by Rod Evans (Perigree, $14). This delightful collection of word play offers everything from anagrams (“The Declaration of Independence — a co-penned edict held nation free”) to oxymora (“free with purchase”) to palindromes (“A Santa deified at NASA”).
Speaking of whom, may your holidays be filled with many happy clauses!
Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to Wordguy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: Penguins not mortgaging future
- No tag for Worilds; Steelers cut Moore
- Penguins acquire defensemen Lovejoy, Cole in deadline deals
- Penguins GM Rutherford not counting on Dupuis’ return
- Zoning update raises fears in Ligonier Township
- Pirates special instructor Tekulve taking second chance to heart
- Pittsburgh’s Downtown tops ranking of small to midsized cities
- Rangers up ante in Metropolitan Division with trade acquisitions
- Shenefelt of North Huntingdon accused of road rage altercation in Westmoreland
- Reputed major heroin trafficker in Westmoreland County pleads guilty, gets prison sentence
- Interstate smash-and-grab jewelry ring may be operating in Pittsburgh area, Altoona