Book Review: Dubious Doublets

Dubious Doublets, by Stewart Edelstein, is another in the long line of popular press etymology books. Two things, however, make this book stand out from the crowd. The first is the quality of the research and the second is Edelstein’s approach to the subject, examining pairs of seemingly unrelated words that share a common origin.

Edelstein is an amateur etymologist. A lawyer by trade, he brings over thirty years of private study to the subject and it shows. Although the book lacks source notes or a bibliography (Edelstein does provide a rather long list of books that are “recommended reading"), the etymologies he gives stand up to detailed scrutiny. Edelstein does not plump for questionable etymologies, nor does he attempt to pass off false etymologies with words like “some people believe.”

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Myths of Language Change, Part 3: It’s Never Been That Way Before & But It Makes Sense

The changing face of our language has created an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, people recognize and delight in the language change of the past. But on the other hand, people routinely resist current changes in the language. The language they learn as children is, for many, the only acceptable manner of speaking. Change is vehemently eschewed.

How people can revel in the changes of the past yet fiercely resist the changes of the present is just bizarre. And it is futile. The language will change whether we like it or not, and no amount of resistance will stop a change whose time has come.

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American Dialect: The West

The American West, as a rule, does not have distinctive pronunciation or grammatical forms. Large numbers of those living in the West came from somewhere else and arrived relatively recently. As a result of this late immigration and mixing of dialects, those in the West speak a very standard brand of American English. The English of the West is very much like that of the Midwest and Northeast.

English-speakers did not settle the West until quite late. Large scale settlement of California did not begin until 1849, following the discovery of gold there the previous year, only about 150 years ago. Similarly, the Mormons did not settle in Utah until 1848. The other Western states were settled even later. Arizona did not attain statehood until 1912. The population of the West boomed after World War II, when the combination of massive water projects and air-conditioning made the Southwest and Southern California habitable for large populations.

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Word Of The Month: Triple Crown

In June, Funny Cide, a three-year-old gelding, almost won the Belmont Stakes and the American Triple Crown. Instead he placed, or finished third. Had Funny Cide won the Belmont, he would have been the first horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978. Like Funny Cide, twelve other horses have won the first two jewels in the Triple Crown only to falter at Belmont. Only eleven horses in history have won all three races.

In honor of Funny Cide our word of the month is Triple Crown. The original Triple Crown is the English one, the winning of the three races known as the Two Thousand Guineas, the Derby, and the St. Leger. Only fifteen horses have captured the English Triple Crown.

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Book Review: A History of Reading

Few people think to distinguish reading from writing. Most generally assume that these two skills are one and the same. Stephen Roger Fischer’s A History of Reading disabuses us of that notion. Fischer’s book is the third in a trilogy, the first two volumes addressing language and writing. This third volume focuses on reading, the various types of reading, how we do it, and the social significance of it.

First, the mental process of reading is quite different from speech or writing. We do not normally read individual phonemes or letters and accomplished readers may not even read individual words. Instead we take in entire phrases with a glance and use pattern recognition to render it comprehensible. Children learning to read do sound out individual phonemes, as do adults when they encounter unfamiliar and complex words, but once reading has been ingrained as a skill, most of us do not.

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