Thursday, July 30, 2009

Books on Words

It is my opinion (and not a very humble one at that) that writers who don't love words truly don't love writing. Why without words there would be no writing. And to use the same tired words again and again, over and over, day in and day out, ad nauseum (I'll stop with the idioms now) is just boring. I liken it to working in a factory and seeing the same product run through on an assembly line. That is one of the wonderful things about the English language. We have lots of words that mean essentially the same thing. There are volumes of thesauri, tomes of dictionaries and countless treatises on the words in the English language. Every writer should have a well worn thesaurus, a tattered dictionary and an atlas whose pages are nearly falling out on their bookshelves. (Why an atlas? Do you know how many delicious words are in atlases?)

I found two new (to me) books while at the library this week that I want to share. The first is called What in the Word?: Wordplay, Word Lore, and Answers to your Peskiest Questions about Language by Charles Harrington Elster (now if that isn't a name that sounds like a wordographer!). This is truly a fun little read. It isn't dry or dull as one would initially expect from a book about words, There are quizzes, fun ways to remember commonly misused words (they're, their, there) and delightful lists of idioms. One of my favorite little things from this book was a discussion on the phrase déjà lu (and no I won't tell you what it means!)

The other treat I picked up is called How We Talk: American Regional English Today by Allan Metcalf. I've had the unique opportunity to travel the world. I've been to Japan, Europe and all around the the continental United States. (I've been to some of the interior of the US, but prefer to live in areas that are near tremendous bodies of water.) One of the advantages in this is that I don't presume that everyone talks like I do (or the people around me as most people assume that I am from somewhere in the Midwest rather than the deep south - except when I say y'all.) One of the disadvantages is that I never can remember how words are delivered and received where. For instance when talking about carbonated beverages. I never can remember if in the Pacific Northwest we would say soda or pop. I'm thinking it was soda, but that may have been New York or perhaps it was southern California. I know here in the south we say coke as a generic word for any carbonated beverage. First you ask your guest, "Would you like a coke?" They respond in the affirmative. So then you need to clarify, "What would you like?" The answer could be anything from Sprite to Dr. Pepper or even Pepsi. This book is broken up into regions, taking into account that within that region are sub-regions. For instance under "The North" one can choose from New England, New York City and the Mid-Atlantic, and The inland North. There are also sections on American Ethnic, In the Movies and Dialects 2100.

I'd love to know of your favorite books on words.

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