2004 Holiday Shopping List

What do you get the word lover in your family for Christmas? You get them a copy of Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton (Hardcover, Oxford University Press, 2004, $21.95). But of course they ran out to the book store on the first day the book was available, so that’s no good. What other books are out there that the discriminating logophile will enjoy? Here is a list, culled from those we’ve reviewed over the past few years.

New Dickson Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson (Paperback, Harvest Books, 1999, $20.00). This is without a doubt the best reference for baseball slang and jargon. Rigorously researched, Dickson gives usage citations for the earliest known appearance of most terms. A joy for both baseball fans and word lovers, a treasure for those who are both.

Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter (Paperback, Perennial Books, 2003, $13.95). A superb and highly readable review of the processes of language change and comparative linguistics. McWhorter is insightful and intellectually daring.

The Man Who Deciphered Linear B by Andrew Robinson (Hardcover, Thames & Hudson, 2002, $19.95). This one is a bit different. It is a biography of Michael Ventris, the polymath who, in the mid-20th Century, was the first to successfully read the ancient Greek language known as Linear B. It is a fascinating account of a truly brilliant mind at work.

Predicting New Words: The Secrets of Their Success, by Allan Metcalf (Hardcover, Houghton Mifflin, 2002, $22.00). This book provides a theory for why certain new terms survive while most are rapidly forgotten. Metcalf also provides a formula for predicting the success of words while they are still new. Whether he is right or not will be known in about 50 years, but in the meantime it is still fun reading.

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester (Hardcover, Oxford University Press, 2003, $25.00). This is a “biography” of a dictionary. Winchester tells us the story of the Oxford English Dictionary, how it came into existence, the methodology used by the lexicographers, and the struggle to keep the project going over the decades. Above all, it is the story of a fascinating cast of characters who (mostly) labored in obscurity to produce what is probably the greatest reference work ever created.

Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture, by Paul McFedries (Paperback, Broadway Books, 2004, $15.95). A wonderful collection of new terms from his excellent website (www.wordspy.com) which McFedries expertly ties to current cultural trends. Fascinating linguistics and sociology.

Dewdroppers, Waldos and Slackers: A Decade-By-Decade Guide to the Vanishing Vocabulary of the Twentieth Century, by Rosemarie Ostler (Hardcover, Oxford University Press, 2003, $25.00). Last but not least, this is the true gem of the list. Each chapter of this wonderful book addresses the terms that are emblematic of a particular decade in the 20th Century. From speakeasy to Trekkie, from jitterbug to hip-hop, no word lover should be without this book.

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