Holiday Gift Ideas

The holiday shopping season is once again upon us and it’s time for our annual list of gift ideas for that logophile in your life, be that person a friend, family member, or yourself. The following are some (mostly) new books that any lover of words and language would like to have on their shelf.

First up, of course is Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends; the paperback version of which is new this year. If you haven’t purchased it already, buy two as penance.

Another one new in paperback this year is Michael Quinion’s Gallimaufry: A Hodgepodge of Our Vanishing Vocabulary. Like the title, this book is a delectable mixture of linguistic and etymological tidbits. You can read my full review of the book here. Another good choice along the same lines is Susie Dent’s What Made the Crocodile Cry? Read the full review here. A bit different, is Ammon Shea’s Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21730 Pages, one man’s yearlong foray into that biggest of dictionaries, reviewed in full here.

A bit more on the blue side is Stephen Dodson’s (a.k.a. Languagehat) and Robert Vanderplank’s Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit: Untranslatable Insults, Put-Downs, and Curses from Around the World. Read the full review here. Also out this year is the new edition of Jesse Sheidlower’s The F-Word, the definitive study of that most notorious of words. But even if you have an earlier edition, this latest one is significantly expanded and well worth picking up.

On the more serious side, there are several good selections for writers. The best usage manual on the market is Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. It’s not new, but it’s invaluable. More recent is Garner’s Modern American Usage, third edition, which I review here. Another great resource for writers is the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, which I review here. And if you’re a copyeditor, you should definitely pick up Carol Fisher Saller’s The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice From Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself), which I review in full here. Finally, a great web resource is a subscription to the Visual Thesaurus, which I review here.

Lovers of slang will enjoy Michael Adams’s Slang: The People’s Poetry. This is a serious, but not sonorous or soporific, look at slang, reviewed here.

Finally, a more esoteric and expensive resource. Just out is the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. If you’ve got the money to spend on it, it’s a great book to have on hand. I haven’t reviewed it, but you can read Languagehat’s review here.

Happy shopping and here’s wishing you the best this holiday season!

(Disclosure: I received free review copies of some of these books. Oxford University Press, the publisher of many of them, is also the publisher of my book, Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends. Additionally, if you click through the links and make a purchase, I receive a very small referral payment from

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