by Karen Ball
Welcome back to my desk! (No, the picture above is not my desk…it is a cool piece of art designed by Dutch artist Job Koelewijn.) In the first two installments of this blog we covered writing books and grammar books. Now it’s time for some of my true favs: WORD books. Yes, books on words. Those wonderful collections of the odd and the antiquated, the eloquent and the literate, the hilarious and the mordant. These books bring us a new appreciation for the English language. And they provide us a with deeper, multi-faceted understanding of the power of words.
So here are the wondrous Word books perched on my desk. Books that, I confess, come out to play on a regular basis, sometimes just because it’s such a delight to read them!
- The Highly Selective Dictionary of Golden Adjectives; The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate; The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate, all by Eugene Ehrlich. Makes me feel extraordinarily literate just to have them occupy my desk! But then I open the pages and find such treasures as edacity, ratiocination, opprobrius, and hypaethral. Isn’t it fun just to say such words?
- Forgotten English: A Merry Guide to Antiquated Words by Jeffrey Kacirk. And here I am delighted with toad-eater, prickmedainty, nimgimmer, and the ever popular bird-swindler.
- The Disheveled Dictionary: A Curious Caper Through Our Sumptuous Lexicon. You may have guessed already, but this is another book from the wondiferous Karen Elizabeth Gordon. As is Out of the Loud Hound Of Darkness: A Dictionarrative.
In the first, even the introduction is a feast for the eyes and mind: “But words are characters in this book too, and are, indeed, its stars. You’ll meet umbrage in a personals ad, fripperous in a passage from Menace in Venice, while in that same city you will be led through the fog by a cicerone. The Grim Reaper calls on a reluctant baba to parlay the import of internuncio, and extirpate appears most incongruously with a pair of cowboy boots…”
The second compares lets us follow a delightful cast of characters as they compare oft-confused words and phrases, so that we never again need wonder whether to use acidulous or assiduous, collude or connive, and tight rather than tightly.
- Break open Unfortunate English: The Gloomy Truth behind the Words You Use by Bill Brohaugh, and the table of contents tells you all you need to know about what you’ll find in those pages:
- Them’s Fightin’ Words!: Words of War and the Battlefield
- It Pains Me to Say
- Words of Assault, torture, Bloodletting, and Death
- “You’re So Pretty,” and Other Obnoxious Insults: Words of Hidden Deprecation, Derogation, and Degradation.
And on it goes, taking us to the last chapter, where we discover “Words that Start and End with a Double-ewwww!”
From the pages of this grand little book I discovered that calling something terrific used to mean it frightened you, saying you were nosy meant you had a big schnozz, and accusing someone of plagiarism meant they’d kidnapped your children (yes, real flesh-and-blood children!). Amazing!
Other members of my word-book gang include:
- Red Herrings & White Elephants: The Origins of the Phrases We Use Every Day by Albert Jack
- You Say To*ma*to: An amusing and Irreverent Guide to the Most Often Mispronounced Words in the English Language and The Diabolical Dictionary of Modern English, both by R.W. Jackson
- Anguished English: An Anthology of Accidental Assaults Upon Our Language, and Get Thee to a Punnery, and The Bride of Anguished English: A Bonanza of Bloopers, Blunders, Botches, and Boo-Boos by Richard Lederer. I love this, from the intro to The Bride: “I wouldn’t dream of changing a single word of bloopers, blunders, botches, and boo-boos like these:
- A man informed his wife, “The gynecologist called. Your Pabst Beer is normal.”
- The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten, another gem by Jeffrey Kacirk.
So there you have some of the friends who reside on my desk. Those tomes of trivia and tutelage that guide my mind and imagination as I navigate the ever tumultuous waters of writing, agenting, and editing. Hope you’ve enjoyed meeting them. And I hope some of them come to live on your desk, too. They are great friends to have, one and all.