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Now's the time for a good ol' summer tome

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By Rob Kyff
Friday, July 12, 2013, 7:20 p.m.

“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 or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254

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