Now's the time for a good ol' summer tome
“Summer's lease hath all too short a date,” sighed Shakespeare. So, before the dog days arrive, make a date with one of these new books about language.
“You're My Dawg: A Lexicon of Dog Terms for People” written by Donald Friedman and illustrated by J. C. Suaras (Welcome Books, $12.95) charmingly wags its “tales”: The “dog days” are named for the Dog Star (Sirius), which rises with the sun in midsummer; small sharks are called “dogfish” because they hunt in packs; a “hush puppy” was originally a cornmeal mix fed as scrap food to dogs to quiet them.
If “fuss budgets” and “fuddy duddies” cause you “botheration,” you'll love “Let's Bring Back: The Lost Language Edition — A Collection of Forgotten, Yet Delightful, Words, Phrases, Insults, Idioms and Literary Flourishes From Eras Past” by Lesley Blume (Chronicle Press, $19.95). My favorites include “conflabberation” (hullabaloo), “glump” (to sulk), “devil's teeth” (dice), “fizzing” (first-rate), rackabones (skinny person), “rammish” (stinky), “kicksy-wicksy” (restless) and “naughty pack” (children).
In “Yes, I Could Care Less: How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk” (St. Martin's Griffin, $14.99), the devilish and delightful Bill Walsh treats controversial usages as if they were a kicksy-wicksy naughty pack.
Sometimes you rein in the kids (avoid “try and”); sometimes you set reasonable boundaries (use “I could care less” only in speech); and sometimes you let 'em run wild (feel free to use “since” to mean “because”). Explains Walsh, “I'm half churlish on my mother's side.”
In “Good Prose: The Art of Non-fiction” (Random House, $26), two good pros — Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tracy Kidder and veteran editor Richard Todd — impart sage advice like master carpenters describing a fine cabinet: “The good and honest memoir is a record of learning.” “Describe⅜not the wart, but how the character covers it when he's nervous.” “(Writing an Essay) is like taking a bite of an apple that is the world.”
Despite a title that's a bit edgy for this family-friendly column, “Holy SH.T”: A Brief History of Swearing” by Melissa Mohr (Oxford, $24.95) provides a lively and intriguing review of profanity and obscenity from ancient Rome to “The Sopranos.” A serious work by a Stanford Ph.D., this book reminds us that swearing has always provided humans with a much-needed outlet for emphatic expression. Egads!
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 Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254