Friday, September 2, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Language

What’s in a Word? Mario Pei. Pei gives the reader a basic course in the history of the English language.

Dictionary of Foreign Terms. A compendium of short, pithy, thought-provoking statements.

The Oxford Book of Aphorisms. A collection of aphorisms listed by topics. Perhaps the best advice for reading books of aphorisms is the aphorism on page 2: “The only way to read a book of aphorisms without being bored is to open it at random and having found something that interests you, close the book and meditate.” Prince DeLigne, 1796.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions. I bet you think reading dictionaries is a nerdish activity. Maybe so, but if you love language, you have to enjoy reading books that talk about words. In this review of allusions, you will find a rich assortment of indirect references, references assumed by writers to be understood by their  readers and therefore unexplained. Spot an allusion you don’t understand? Look it up in this book.

Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English? Edwin Newman.  If you love a good “rant,” this book is one of the better ones on a topic that everyone loves to rant on—the American language. “Newman’s wry eye focuses on the sorry state of the English language as a reflection of the sorry state of society. If words are devalued, he argues, so are ideas and so are human beings. He rejoices in language that is lucid, graceful, direct, civilized.” He points out the gobbledygook that passes for public language in the media and the business world.

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